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By: Andrew Sullivan
Vitamin D has undergone a renaissance in our understanding of the many roles it plays in our health. Its intake levels should no longer be prescribed with the perspective of merely preventing rickets but achieving optimum wellness. The medical community has previously established that vitamin D supports immune system response and is associated with reductions in comorbidities and chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes, which increase the risk of COVID-19.
The association between vitamin D blood status and the risk of COVID-19 is being further investigated. Many of us probably take vitamin D supplements based on advice from our healthcare providers between 600 and 2,000 International Units (IU) per day; the question remains whether your current supplementation protocol is adequate for the purposes of improving your immune system. Healthcare organizations have differing opinions on the maximum amount of IU that is well tolerated in the general population without adverse side effects, with arguments being made between 4,000 and 10,000 IU daily.
The amount of vitamin D present in a liter of blood determines how we classify levels of deficiency, sufficiency, and toxicity. However, deficiency and sufficiency are currently only optimized for bone density, and not the other health factors that vitamin D influences. The amount of vitamin D from supplements that ends up in our blood can vary highly due to sun exposure and individual differences in metabolism. Units used to measure supplement concentration can vary, so ensure you are comparing correctly. The Mayo Clinic website has a thorough list of negative medication interactions to read through before increasing supplement dosage.
A cohort meta-analysis that was published September 3, 2020 hypothesized that hospital patients with higher blood concentrations of vitamin D were less likely to test positive for COVID-19.
This hypothesis proved to be statistically significant, as those with a blood level deemed sufficient (surveyed as supplementing the equivalent of 3000 IU of D3 daily) were 1.77 times less likely to test positive for COVID-19 than those with insufficient blood levels.
Additional research is needed to determine effective ranges to aid prevention and if vitamin D can decrease negative health outcomes once patients have contracted COVID-19. The practical takeaway from these investigations is to examine your personal vitamin D status and consumption, and make a decision on whether or not to increase your intake. Sun exposure can come with its own set of health risks, and over the counter supplementation via vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol) is an inexpensive and effective method of increasing blood levels.
It is recommended to speak with your primary healthcare provider before making any changes, and ideally having recent blood level test results to guide your decision with the ability to re-assess after several weeks of treatment. However, for the vast majority of people, simply increasing supplementation closer to the established Tolerable Upper Limit of 4,000 IU will likely add modestly to your coronavirus protection (while NOT being a substitute for other established protocols such as mask wearing, social distancing, and hand hygiene) with a very small risk of negative effects.