Currently, we are in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic. From all indications, it appears that vitamin D has a potential role in reducing the risk of respiratory tract infections, including the coronavirus and seasonal influenza.
Through several mechanisms, vitamin D has proven to have the ability to lower viral replication rates and reduce concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which produce the inflammation that injures the lining of the lungs. Observational studies and clinical trials reported that vitamin D supplementation reduces the risk of influenza as well. Its positive impact on the immune system is undeniable. Functional medicine physicians and healthcare providers knowledgeable in nutrition suggest the following vitamin D3 supplement levels to reduce the risk of infection from Covid-19 and influenza. Consider taking 10,000 international units per day of vitamin D3 for a couple weeks to rapidly raise vitamin D concentrations, followed by a maintenance dose of 5,000 international units per day. The goal should be to increase vitamin D concentrations above 60ng/ml. For the treatment of people who become infected with Covid-19, higher vitamin D3 doses might be needed. Randomized controlled studies and clinical trials with a large population should be conducted to evaluate these recommendations further.
How Does Vitamin D Affect Immune Health?
Vitamin D is vital for the proper functioning of your immune system, which is your body’s first line of defense against infection and disease. The vitamin plays a crucial role in promoting immune response. It has multiple properties, including being both anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory. It is known to enhance the function of immune cells, including T-cells and macrophages, that protect the body against various pathogens.
Lower levels of vitamin D have been directly linked to an increased risk of respiratory diseases, including tuberculosis, asthma, and COPD, as well as viral and bacterial respiratory pathogens. This known fact, obviously, puts individuals with any of these conditions at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus. What’s more, vitamin D deficiency has been associated with decreased lung function, which may affect your body’s ability to fight respiratory infections. Prolonged vitamin D deficiency has been well documented in clinical studies to be linked to severe diseases such as all types of cancer, depression, and autoimmune diseases like Lupus, for example.
Can Taking Vitamin D Protect Against Covid-19?
At this time, there is no cure or specific treatment for Covid-19. There are no studies to my knowledge that have investigated the effect of vitamin D supplementation or vitamin D deficiency on the risk of contracting the new coronavirus. Still, studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency can harm immune function and increase your risk of developing respiratory illnesses. Vitamin D supplements have also been shown to reduce mortality in older adults, which we have learned, are at the highest risk for contracting coronavirus. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to have your provider test your vitamin D levels to determine whether you have a deficiency of this vital nutrient.
More About the “Sunshine Vitamin”
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient essential to the health and functioning of your immune system. It enhances white blood cells that are necessary parts of your immune defense. When skin is exposed to sunlight, the cholesterol (fat under the skin) makes vitamin D, giving it the nickname the “sunshine vitamin.” We can also get it from dietary sources. Foods that provide vitamin D include fish like salmon, sardines, and trout. Also, legumes, eggs, beef, and extra virgin cod liver oil.
It is essential for many other health reasons, including:
- Increasing the absorption of calcium and phosphorous in the small intestine for healthy bones
- Improving the nervous system and brain health
- Immune system enhancement supporting B and T cells to fight infections
- Strengthening lung function
- Helping maintain healthy blood pressure and regulating blood sugar in diabetics. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicated individuals with lower vitamin D had higher levels of systolic blood pressure and, in type II diabetics, lower levels of insulin resistance.
Vitamin D3 is considered to be the most natural form of vitamin D and also the best absorbed.
Lifestyle Medicine and Vitamin D
While Big Pharma rushes to develop an FDA approved treatment or vaccine for coronavirus, there are lifestyle measures that can naturally boost the immune system that you can proactively implement into your daily regimen immediately. Here are my favorites…
- Stay hydrated – this keeps your lungs moist and mucus flowing to clear the lungs and minimize infections.
- Drink green or black tea – these teas contain tremendous antioxidant polyphenols that support immune system function while fighting off free radicals.
- Get good quality sleep – this is one of the most crucial self- practices to maintain a healthy immune system, and keep hormones in balance.
- Limit sugar intake – eliminating or reducing inflammatory foods like sugar helps build immunity and allow for faster recovery if infected. A study out of Loma Linda University in California stated that excess sugar-reduced white blood cell function by as much as 40%.
- Keeping stress and anxiety in check – mindfulness, deep abdominal breathing, meditation, prayer, listening to music, mild exercise to release endorphins is also crucial.
- Laugh more – A study from Harvard Medical Center showed that humor might still be the best medicine by boosting the immune system.
- Maintain social network and family relationships – remotely, studies confirm staying socially connected keeps the immune system happy and intact.
- Keep a positive mental attitude – this is a powerful tool as the brain responds to healthy thoughts. Feed your brain what it needs. You have a choice of what you put into your mind. Thoughts are things. They matter.
- Acceptance– Let go of things out of your control
- Take targeted nutritional supplements that have anti-viral and immune-supportive properties. These include :
- probiotics – 70% of your immune cells reside in the digestive tract
- vitamin C
- vitamin D3
- immune support herbal formulas with medicinal mushrooms, astragalus, and olive leaf extract
- CBD oil
Maintaining a healthy immune system is crucial, not just in this current pandemic, but every day. Consider practicing some of the above lifestyle tools today. Your body and mind will be grateful!