What to Know About Vitamin D Deficiency

While many states are making moves to open up at least somewhat following the coronavirus pandemic, we’re not necessarily out of the danger zone yet. In fact, it’s possible that coronavirus might become an ongoing seasonal illness like the flu.

The coronavirus has been particularly devastating to nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the U.S. and around the world.

Older adults or severely ill people who are residents of these facilities tend to be more vulnerable to all types of contagious illnesses, but one vitamin that could also impact the severity of coronavirus is interestingly vitamin D.

Vitamin D deficiency is frequently seen in older people and people who live in nursing homes, although anyone can be deficient.

Understanding the links between vitamin D and coronavirus could be helpful to some people, although of course, vitamin D is certainly not a prevention or cure for the virus.

New Vitamin D Research

Two new studies have linked coronavirus risks with vitamin D deficiency.

There was a team at Northwestern University who preprinted a study on April 30, but it’s not yet peerreviewed.

The Northwestern team assessed coronavirus cases in 10 countries, which included Iran, China, Germany, Italy, and the U.S.

The researchers compared data about the coronavirus to levels of vitamin D in the country’s population before the outbreak. There was a strong correlation, researchers said, between vitamin D deficiency and what’s called a cytokine storm.

A cytokine storm is one of the reasons coronavirus can be deadly, and it occurs when essentially the immune system goes into overdrive trying to fight off the virus. It’s the cytokine storm element of the virus that can cause severe lung damage and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

A separate study found a link between higher vitamin D levels and fewer covid-19 cases and deaths.

That study was published in the Aging Clinical and Experimental Research journal and was headed by UK researchers.

Of 20 European countries assessed, those countries with higher average vitamin D levels had fewer coronavirus cases and lower mortality rates.

None of this proves anything definitively, but we do know that having adequate vitamin D levels is essential for our immune systems and overall health and wellness.

In the study of the 20 European countries, one of the authors, Lee Smith, said vitamin D has been shown to protect against respiratory infections, and that older people are most often deficient in vitamin D and also most seriously affected by coronavirus.

How Common Is Vitamin D Deficiency?

Vitamin D is produced by our body when our skin is exposed to sunlight, and it also naturally occurs in a few foods, although not many.

For example, vitamin D is in egg yolks and some types of fish. It’s also in certain fortified cereal, grain, and dairy products.

Our body needs vitamin D for strong bones, and low levels have been linked to an increased risk of death related to cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment in older adults, severe cases of asthma in children, and some types of cancer.

Some researchers believe vitamin D could help in the prevention and treatment of many chronic conditions, including type 1 and type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

There are a few main reasons you could be deficient in vitamin D.

Common vitamin D deficiency risk factors, aside from being elderly include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Not spending much time outdoors
  • Living in a place where there’s not a lot of sun year-round
  • Having dark skin
  • Not having a diet with much fish or dairy

A 2011 study found nearly 42% of U.S. adults are deficient in vitamin D, and that number goes up to almost 70% in Hispanics and 82% in African-Americans.

Specific risk factors also make elderly people more likely to be deficient in vitamin D.

One is their decreased dietary intake, but seniors may have reduced intestinal absorption, which can impact their vitamin D levels, less exposure to sunlight, and their skin may be thinner.

When seniors have adequate levels of vitamin D, it can help reduce the likelihood they’re admitted to a nursing home, help them maintain their mobility, and prevent fractures.

What Are the Signs of Vitamin D Deficiency?

The following are some of the signs of vitamin D deficiency to watch for, particularly if you fall into one of the above risk groups.

You get sick often, or when you get sick, it’s severe and long-lasting. Vitamin D helps your immune system combat bacteria and viruses that cause you to get sick, and there is also a link between vitamin D deficiency and respiratory tract infections.

You feel tired or fatigued. If you have chronic daytime fatigue, you might want to have your doctor check your vitamin D levels.

Bone pain and back pain could be the result of or at least impacted by low vitamin D levels. There have been observational studies showing links, and this may be because vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium.

If your mood is low or you have symptoms of depression, consider speaking with your doctor about whether or not you have a vitamin D deficiency.

Testing and Treatment for Vitamin D Deficiency

If you are in a risk group for vitamin D deficiency or you think you could be deficient for any reason, you don’t have to guess.

Your doctor can perform something called the 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test.

A normal level from this test would be anywhere from 20 ng/mL to 50 ng/mL. If your level was less than 12 ng/mL, it’s considered a deficiency.

You can supplement to improve your vitamin D levels, but speak with your doctor about the right approach for you specifically.

The exact amount of vitamin D you might need can vary depending on your age and other health conditions as well. For example, if you’re older than 70, your doctor may advise you to take a higher dose of a vitamin D supplement than someone younger.