Sunshine Vitamin D and COVID-19
In the northern hemisphere, we are all at greater risk of having a deficiency of vitamin D. Why? Because we don’t get enough sunshine directly onto our skin which results in the generation of vitamin D. This explains why deficiency exists in the UK and why Vitamin D and COVID-19 are linked.
But note, vitamin D is not an actual vitamin but a secosteroid hormone produced in the skin from 7-dehydrocholesterol after exposure to sunlight UVB radiation. It is therefore really hormone royalty!
Interestingly, people with lighter coloured skin absorb more sunlight and therefore produce more vitamin D than people with darker skin. Millions of years ago when the human species explored further north, the amount of sunlight became less and various natural processes became less effective. One of these was vitamin D production.
The darker your skin the more melatonin you produce and this protects against the excessive results from too much sun. Which is good near the equator. But further north, the melatonin prevents precious sun from producing vitamin D.
However, even those people with lighter coloured skin now have to look out for vitamin D deficiency because many do not spend enough time outside.
Not Only Lack of Sunshine
There are a number of other risk factors that might cause low vitamin D in the body, linking Vitamin D and COVID-19 further. As well as lack of sunshine or having darker skin colour there are the following:
- Being elderly
- Restricted diet such as vegan or vegetarian
- Mal-absorption in the gut such as coeliac or other condition
- Reduced conversion in liver or kidneys due to medical conditions
- Being overweight or obese
- Not eating much fish or dairy.
- Living far from the equator where there is little sunlight year-round
- Always using sunscreen when going out
- Staying indoors
- Increased demand due to pregnancy or breastfeeding
In the UK alone it is estimated that at least 25-33% of the population have a vitamin D deficiency. This could increase in the winter months. It is likely to be much higher in communities with African heritage too.
What’s the Big deal?
Even in the best of times vitamin D deficiency was seen as a big deal due to the importance that it has to many different processes in the body. Public Health England recommends in normal circumstances that most people take a vitamin D supplement in the winter months and all year round if you don’t get out much at other times of the year.
However, in this time of crisis because of the way that it is known to fight disease and illness (seen from this study HERE) any deficiency should be immediately countered.
Other studies have shown HERE that such vitamin D regulates the immune system in the upper respiratory tract. Deficiency will as a result cause risk of catching, for example, a respiratory disease or condition. Take a look at this study and in particular the last 3 sentences HERE .
Since COVID-19 presents itself as a respiratory condition that attacks the heart and lungs, it is time to sit up and take notice. Take some vitamin D!
Where is Vitamin D Found
It is found in fish primarily and some dairy products, particularly those that are fortified using vitamin D. However, most of us do not have enough in our diets. If you are seeking to get as much as possible from your food check the labels for fortified dairy products. These should tell you how much you are getting.
These are the foods that are highest in vitamin D but most people will need a supplement:
- oily or fatty fish – such as salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel. Farmed fish will generally only have about 25% of the wild fish.
- cod liver oil or other fish oils – this combines with vitamin A so be careful if you are advised against additional vitamin A intake.
- canned tuna – useful and convenient when it is difficult to shop.
- Egg yolks – whilst egg whites have the protein element, the yolks have the minerals and vitamins.
- Mushrooms – is the best source of vitamin D2 provided that they are not grown in the dark. So again wild mushrooms are best provided you know your edible species well.
- Fortified foods – such as milk including plant based milk plus oats and cereals but don’t buy a sugar laden cereal just for the vitamin D content.
What is the Recommended Daily Dose
This varies depending on who you speak to between 400 mcg (micrograms) and 800 mcg. Often this is displayed in “IU” or international units. For vitamin D 100 iu equals 2.5 mcg so the recommended dose for supplementation is 10 mcg on the assumption that you are getting the rest needed in your diet. However, if you diet isn’t made up of much in the way of the foods set out above then you should think about supplementing up to the full 800 mcg per day.
As a result, if you feel you are not well covered by your diet then best to take 2 servings per day. Particularly, if you are elderly our recommendation would be to have one serving of sense* for busy lives and one serving of sense* for joint & bone. Why, see how vitamin D and calcium need each other below.
Vitamin D, Calcium and the Elderly
If you are over 60 then supplementation with vitamin D is almost a “must have” so a study told us HERE. There are so many differing reasons why this should be the case.
Lack of conversion of sunlight
As you get older you lose some of your ability to synthesize this vitamin from sunlight. This could be a 30% or more reduction in production of vitamin D via the skin.
Internal Conversion via liver or kidney
This can also suffer due to ageing or medical conditions
Being house-bound or leading sedentary lifestyle
Often this is a result of lack of mobility that becomes a vicious circle. Living in a care home or one your own wont help either. But a lifestyle change is a healthy option to consider so spending more time outside.
But what are the symptoms?
Often the symptoms are non specific in the sense that many elderly people will just attribute these to the inevitable signs of old age. However, we now know that these “symptoms” of old age can be delayed or overcome to a large extent by improved nutrition, diet and exercise.
If you are suffering any of the below symptoms and have not been checked for this deficiency, then call your doctor. Alternatively, get some extra supplementation as soon as possible. The symptoms are:
- Getting sick or illness often – see above in relation COVID-19 and this study HERE. Vitamin is needed to help the immune system operate normally.
- Bone Loss – Vitamin D is needed to help calcium to be absorbed into the body. Calcium is needed for healthy bones. For a study see HERE
- Back Pain – large studies have concluded that back pain in the elderly and vitamin D deficiency go hand in hand in India see HERE and post-menopausal women HERE
- Fatigue and tiredness – we all expect to get a bit tired when we get older. But try telling that to our Founder’s 80 year old mother. She is the healthiest person we know with bags of energy. Unexplained fatigue could be a deficiency see HERE
- Poor wound healing – there are many studies which show the indirect cause of lack of vitamin D, too many to ignore!
- Depression – there is conflicting evidence but where no correlation between depression or low moods where found in controlled trials, low levels of vitamin D were supplemented.
- Hair Loss – studies with patients with alopecia have shown that there is a high incidence of vitamin D deficiency See HERE
- Muscle pain – In one study HERE, 71% of people with chronic pain were found to be deficient. This may be due to the connection between vitamin D and pain sensing nerve cells
It is pretty conclusive that vitamin D is a really important part of your daily nutrition. Too important to miss out on particularly now. If you are already taking sense* for busy lives or sense* for joint & bone then you should be ok. If in doubt take 2 servings per day. Otherwise we suggest you supplement with a single ingredient, trusted Vitamin D brand to ensure you are covered.