Here’s an important reason to pay attention to your vitamin D status this September

It’s that time of year again as the days are getting shorter and the sun will start to shine a little less brightly. While for those of us who love summer, the end of summer can be somewhat depressing, but  there can also be real physical consequences to this change in seasons. After the summer, without any supplementation, your blood levels of vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin,  may begin to drop. This is due to decreased skin exposure to adequate ultraviolet light of sufficient intensity.

You may already be low in vitamin D if you are a faithful sunscreen user or if you have dark skin. Sunscreen blocks some of the production of vitamin D (there’s debate about how much) while those with darker skin require longer times of exposure to even intense summer sun rays to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D.

Simply relying on food for your vitamin D needs won’t cut it. Vitamin D supplements are a smart choice and even smarter this year. Being low on vitamin D in 2020 is not something you want to be.

A growing body of scientific research is pointing to low blood levels of vitamin D as being linked to Covid-19.

Now let’s be clear here: I am not saying that vitamin D can prevent Covid. I am saying that low levels of vitamin D (or for that matter a poor nutritional status) may put you at a greater risk of both developing Covid and also of more severe consequences. Much more research, though, is needed.

At risk groups
Studies show that the severity of Covid and its mortality rates are higher in the elderly, Blacks and those with diabetes, chronic lung and cardiovascular diseases. These are all groups with potentially low vitamin D levels. Those with excessive amounts of body fat can also have low levels of vitamin D circulating in their bloodstream as the vitamin D can be stored in their fat cells. As well, research links low vitamin D levels with a higher odds of simply developing viral respiratory infections.

Vitamin D also has anti-inflammatory action, something that may too play a role in Covid severity. During the infection, there appears to be a significant inflammatory stage which can greatly increase the complications.

We’re now seeing a flurry of research looking into vitamin D’s role in both developing Covid as well as in the treatment.

But – and it’s a big but– we need the gold standard of research to really determine just how important vitamin D is and what dosages are most effective . This gold standard is double-blinded randomized studies where one group is given the vitamin D and the other a placebo but researchers don’t know who is getting what.

That’s what real science is all about.

Simply observing that there’s a greater likelihood of developing Covid and having more severe cases if you’re short on vitamin D is  simply not proof of this nutrient’s importance.

In the meantime, there is no harm and potentially significant benefit to taking vitamin D supplements – BUT the right dose is key.

Many experts recommend between 1,000 or 2,000 IU per day. Keep in mind that the upper limit that’s recommended is 4,000 IU per day. If you miss one day, you can take extra on another. As it’s a fat-soluble vitamin, its absorption is maximized when you take it with a meal where you are eating some fat. The fat can be from any source – dairy products, eggs, meat, fish, poultry, nuts and seeds, soyfoods or oil – you name it.

I don’t think it needs to be said but I’ll do it anyway: while healthy eating is key for maximum immune system functioning, staying safe also includes hand washing and sanitizing, mask wearing and social distancing.

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Categories: Nutrition News, Research Roundup

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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