A scientific review, published in 2006, concluded that the increase in seasonal flu virus’s is due to the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in the winter months. According to a Spanish study published online October 27, 2020, in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 82.2% of COVID-19 patients tested were found to be deficient in vitamin D.
Vitamin D is Not a Vitamin
Vitamin D is a group of fat-soluble secosteroids (steroids) responsible for increasing intestinal absorption of calcium, magnesium, and phosphate, and many other biological effects. In humans, the most important compounds in this group are vitamin D3, also known as cholecalciferol, and vitamin D2, ergocalciferol.
The major natural source of the vitamin is the synthesis of cholecalciferol in the lower layers of skin epidermis through a chemical reaction that is dependent on sun exposure (specifically UVB radiation.) Cholecalciferol and ergocalciferol can be ingested from the diet and from supplements but there are only a few foods that contain vitamin D. Flesh of fatty fish like salmon, mushrooms exposed to ultraviolet light, and “fortified” milk products.
Ideally, we want to get our vitamin D from the sun. That is not practical during the winter months, but during the summer I encourage you to give it a try. Lay in the sun with the least amount of clothing on (bikini’s anyone?) for 15-20 minutes during the peak sun hours of 11 am-2 pm. Do not wear sunscreen. Do this at least three days per week.
How much vitamin D do you get during your 20 minutes? There is something called the Fitzpatrick skin types. Skin type I is fair skin that always burns, never tans; type III is darker white skin that burns and tans; type V is brown skin that rarely burns, tans easily. At noon in Miami, someone with Fitzpatrick skin type III would require 6 minutes to synthesize 1000 IU of vitamin D in the summer and 15 minutes in the winter. So you can see, it depends on your skin type and the time of year, hence getting tested is crucial to really know.
Here is a link for an at home test if your doctor will not order one for you. Vitamin D Test
COVID Risk and Vitamin D
More than 80% of 200 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 had vitamin D deficiency. Patients with lower vitamin D levels also had higher blood levels of inflammatory markers. But the researchers found no link between low D levels and how severe the disease was.
Spanish researchers tested how prescription vitamin D could affect people hospitalized with COVID. Of the 50 who received it, only one needed the intensive care unit (ICU), and none died. Among 26 patients who did not receive the vitamin, 13 needed ICU care and two died.
Many functional medicine doctors are testing and prescribing Vitamin D for their patients. Unfortunately, you have to “ask” for a vitamin D test from a Western medicine doctor, and many times insurance won’t cover this test! I’m highly recommending that my clients either ask their doctors, or self-test to get an accurate reading of their levels.
The Cancer Connection
There’s been an ongoing debate over the past number of years as to whether or not vitamin D helps prevent cancer, and to what extent. Now, new research supports that postmenopausal women with higher levels of vitamin D (≥60 ng/ml) have a much lower risk of breast cancer than women with low blood serum levels (<20 ng/ml) of vitamin D. Interesting, the same numbers we are seeing with COVID!
There was a study done by the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, with help from specialists from Creighton University in Omaha, NE, the Medical University of South Carolina in Columbia, and the nonprofit organization GrassrootsHealth in Encinitas, CA. The study focused on two randomized clinical studies and a prospective cohort.
Researchers looked at post-menopausal women over the age of 55 who were all cancer-free at the beginning of the trial. The researchers followed the health of these women for four years and monitored for any potential signs of breast cancer.
The two trials contained 3,325 participants between them, and all drew research from a prospective cohort study with an additional 1,713 participants. There were 77 new cases of breast cancer among all the study participants.
Researchers discovered that there was an 82% lower incidence rate of breast cancer in women with 25(OH)D concentrations ≥60 versus those with levels under 20 ng/ml.
An earlier study that looked at women in the U.K., found having a vitamin D level above 60 ng/mL resulted in an 83% lower breast cancer risk, which is nearly identical to GrassrootsHealth’s 2018 analysis.
Cancer cells survive by exploiting cellular differentiation; proliferation; and apoptosis, angiogenesis, and metastasis. UVB exposure and vitamin D reduce the risk of about 15-20 endothelial cancers. The evidence is strongest for colorectal and breast cancer. People with vitamin D levels above 30 ng/mL tend to live much longer after a cancer diagnosis.
Skin Color Impacts Your Vitamin D
The color of your skin has correlations to your vitamin D level, and we’re also seeing racial disparities in COVID-19. As noted in Detroit, Michigan, where African-Americans account for 14% of the population, they accounted for 40% of COVID-19 deaths.
Vitamin D deficiency likely plays a role in this racial disparity, although nutrition, obesity and diabetes rates also contribute to immune dysfunction. It’s important for people with darker skin to realize that the more melanin you have, the more sun exposure you require to make sufficient amounts of vitamin D.
Magnesium Is Necessary to Activate Vitamin D
It has been estimated that over half the population is low in magnesium as well. This is because magnesium is primarily found in leafy green vegetables. A USDA survey showed that the average American only eats 1.5 cups of vegetables a day, and primarily it’s potatoes and bananas!
Magnesium helps to activate vitamin D, as the enzymes that metabolize vitamin D in your liver and kidneys require magnesium. Again, vitamin D is “a fat-soluble steroid” and it has to be converted by the liver to be in the active form the body can use.
Once you have been tested, depending on your results, you then know how much to supplement with. If you don’t want to get the test, but want to take a safe amount, 1000IU daily during the winter months would be a good place to start.
Those who came into the hospital with COVID and were low (below<20 ng/ml) were put on massive doses of vitamin D for one week (over 100,000IU daily.) You may have been prescribed a vitamin D by your doctor in the past when your test came up low, and the dosage was very high for a short period of time. Remember, this is a fat-soluble hormone, so it stores in the body. If you carry excess fat on your body your need for vitamin D will be higher. Research shows that the higher the body weight, the more vitamin D you need.
Do You Need Vitamin K With Your D?
This question has been asked many times recently. Most people are taking vitamin D for bone health. Calcitriol helps regulate how much calcium the intestines absorb and the calcium concentration in the blood. Calcitriol acts as a key that can unlock vitamin D receptors, which nearly every cell in the body has.
If you are taking vitamin D for bone health, then yes, it’s important to have “K” on board as well. Vitamin K activates osteocalcin, a protein that promotes the accumulation of calcium in your bones and teeth. Vitamin K also activates matrix GLA protein, which prevents calcium from accumulating in soft tissues, such as the kidneys and blood vessels.
Vitamin D deficiency has now been linked to breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, depression and weight gain. These studies show that people with higher levels of vitamin D have a lower risk of disease, so what do you have to lose? Check your levels and get that vitamin D in an optimal range!
“Effect of calcifediol treatment and best available therapy versus best available therapy on intensive care unit admission and mortality among patients hospitalized with COVID -19: A pilot randomized clinical study.”, August 29, 2020, Pub Med
Are High Vitamin D Levels Key In Preventing Breast Cancer, Ty Bollinger , June 28, 2018, The Truth About Cancer
Review of the Benefits of Vitamin D and Recommendations, William B. Grant, December 30, 2016, https://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/review-benefits-vitamin-d-and-recommendations
Why You Need More Vitamin D if You are Heavy, March 21, 2012, Dr. Mercola