Multiple studies are now pointing to deficiency as a major risk factor for developing complications from Covid 19.
Back in May the Scottish Government updated its advice on vitamin D suggesting that, since it is difficult to source enough purely through diet, everyone should should consider taking a daily supplement.
Earlier this month they added to that advice to specifically suggest people from minority ethnic groups, a sector of the population that has been particularly hard hit by the virus and who need more sun exposure to maintain sufficient vitamin D levels, take a supplement of 10 micrograms each day.
Sunlight is one of the primary sources of this essential vitamin, so the recommendation was largely due to the fact most of us were spending more time indoors because of the restrictions on movement in place aimed at limiting the spread of coronavirus.
Multiple studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency could put Covid-19 patients at higher risk of developing complications.
Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge reported that European countries where the public have lower vitamin D levels had significantly higher death rates, including Britain. Surrey and Southampton Universities also reported data showing ethnic minorities and those who are obese may be at greater risk from coronavirus due to deficiency.
Now health officials in Scotland and in England are urgently reviewing the potential of the vitamin in the fight against the virus to see whether it should be routinely prescribed to those in hospital and in high-risk groups.
The Scottish Government advice currently states: “Since it’s difficult for people to get enough vitamin D from food alone, everyone (including children and pregnant and breastfeeding women) should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D. This advice is especially important for people who are indoors all of the time.”
Studies show that 54% of people in Scotland on average do not have sufficient vitamin D levels by the end of winter, a figure that is significantly higher among those in deprived areas.
Dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton believes that, particularly for those in higher-risk groups, supplements are a must. She said: “The Government advice has always been to consider a supplement from autumn to spring but people aren’t doing it. People in care homes should be given routine vitamin D supplements and that isn’t happening. People should be saying to their grandparents to take vitamin D – and this [pandemic] has raised awareness like never before.”
What do we know about the benefits of vitamin D?
Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium which is vital for bone health.
Deficiency of vitamin D has also been linked to a range of serious illnesses including some cancers, heart disease and depression. There has also been research suggesting deficiency could lead to poorer outcomes for coronavirus patients, and trials are under way to try to establish whether vitamin D supplementation might improve the chances and speed of recovery.
There is a school of thought that vitamin D may have anti-inflammatory properties and could help regulate the body’s immune response to viruses, but studies are ongoing.
What are the best sources of vitamin D?
Our main sources of vitamin D are sunlight, food and supplementation – but our less-than-predictable weather in the UK can make it hard to achieve adequate levels of sun exposure at the best of times, let alone during lockdown.
And, as nutritional therapist Jackie Forbes, explains, there are limited foods from which we can source the vitamin too.
She said: “There are actually very few foods which are rich in vitamin D so it can be hard to achieve the minimum daily UK recommended amount of vitamin D, which is 10 micrograms. There are, however, some foods which naturally contain vitamin D such as oily fish including salmon, sardines, trout, herring and kippers.
“You can also find it in egg yolk, cow’s milk and fortified plant-based alternatives, cod liver oil (though that’s not recommended if you’re pregnant), and fortified cereals, spreads and yoghurts. You need to exercise caution here though as many of these fortified foods can be highly processed and refined, with added sugar.”
Jackie added: “Because many of us are spending much more time indoors due to Covid-19, Government guidelines recommend supplementation. Many people are deficient in vitamin D and a higher dosage may be required to optimise levels.
“Vegans should also consider supplementing. The best thing to do is get your vitamin D level tested and supplement accordingly with advice from a qualified nutrition practitioner. Tests are cheap and readily available online from betteryou.com and cerascreen.co.uk.”
Too much vitamin D may be harmful and health officials say that unless your doctor has advised you differently, daily supplements at the recommended amounts will be sufficient.