Dr. Warren Willey

Warren Willey

Vitamin D has been continually mentioned in the COVID-19 battle. Like most of the research involving this virus, it is hard to decipher sales pitches from facts. Vitamin D falls into this category, so I thought I would provide you with some simple and straightforward facts to give you a better understanding of it.

Unlike its name “vitamin” or “vital amine,” Vitamin D is not an amine, but it acts (and looks) like a hormone, as it can affect cell changes in the body. Vitamin D receptors are all over the body, including the immune system. Vitamin D must be made in your body via sunlight or taken in via your diet or in supplement form.

Studies show those of us above the 35th parallel in the northern hemisphere get very little sunlight to increase vitamin D in our skin, especially in the winter, not to mention the fact that we spend a lot of time indoors.

We measure the storage form of vitamin D in your blood called 25(OH) vitamin D. This vitamin D is triggered to the active form via your kidneys and immune system. The kidneys activate vitamin D and influence bones and minerals, whereas the immune-system-activated vitamin D is essential for your immune system function and activity. Of note: High-fructose corn syrup inactivates vitamin D — yet another reason to stop drinking pop!

For more than a century, we have known vitamin D deficiency increases susceptibility to viral infections. The reason there is so much debate as to vitamin D’s role in the current pandemic is that the risk factors for getting a bad outcome with COVID-19 are the same risk factors for having low vitamin D. These are age, BMI and darker skin. When you get older, your skin loses its ability to produce vitamin D. The larger you are or the more fat your body has, the more vitamin D is stored in your fat cells and unavailable to your immune system for use. Darker skinned individuals also produce less vitamin D.

Supplementing vitamin D is a very good idea once you have your levels checked. There is no international consensus on amounts needing to be supplemented, so this is something you need to talk to your doctor about. Ideal levels (also debated) of the inactive form of vitamin D are somewhere between 40 to 70 ng/ml (or sometimes read as 100 – 175 nmol/L).

The bottom line is this: Vitamin D is very likely of vital importance in the current pandemic. Low vitamin D levels correspond to worse outcomes from the pandemic virus. Lots of sunlight would be ideal, but in February in Southeast Idaho, it is not likely. Getting your levels checked by your doctor, supplementing vitamin D via your doctor’s recommendation, and rechecking to ensure optimal levels will likely go a long way in keeping you healthy with this virus we are dealing with.

Dr. Warren Willey is a Pocatello physician. Visit his website at drwilley.com.