Please take vitamin D to help protect against Covid-19 while the vaccine is being rolled out — this is the urgent message from a group of Irish medical experts.
The experts from Ireland's leading universities have appealed to the Government to issue updated guidelines for all Irish adults on vitamin D supplements which, they say, can significantly reduce the risk of infection, serious illness and death from Covid-19
However, to date there has been no policy action despite the mounting evidence showing the benefits of supplementation, they say.
The group have pointed to studies describing significant reductions in death amongst older nursing home patients and substantial reductions in ICU admission rates amongst hospitalised Covid-19 patients following supplementation with vitamin D.
They also highlight emerging evidence from Andalucia in Spain, where a public health initiative to supplement all vulnerable groups including those in care homes with vitamin D coincided with a fall in daily Covid-19 death rates from 60 per day in mid-November to just three per day by the first week in January.
Unfortunately, vitamin D is lacking in the Irish population across all age groups and so experts including Prof Declan Byrne, clinical director at St James' Hospital and Prof Rose Anne Kenny, principal investigator of TILDA, are urging the Department of Health to increase its current vitamin D guidelines to the general adult population for a daily intake of 20-25 micrograms to build protection against the virus.
Among the other eminent academics involved in this work is Dr Dan McCartney, programme director of Human Nutrition and Dietetics at TU Dublin and Trinity College.
'The current pandemic has claimed over 2,700 lives in this country and continues to pressurise our acute care system,” he says.
“Along with mask-wearing, hand-washing, social-distancing and cough etiquette, taking vitamin D supplements now will give the Irish population a degree of protection while the vaccine is being rolled out.
“The accumulation of evidence linking low vitamin D levels and Covid-19 is now considerable
“Finland has recorded low Covid-19 infection and death rates in a country which has been compulsory enriching its milk and spreadable fats with vitamin D since 2003.
“Research from Germany has shown a fifteen-fold increased need for invasive mechanical ventilation and a six-fold increased risk of death in Covid-19 patients with low vitamin D levels, while data from Cordoba in Spain and from France and the UK have highlighted a 25-30 fold reduced risk of ICU admission and a substantial reduction in risk of death in Covid-19 patients supplemented with vitamin D.
“In the study from Cordoba in Spain, out of 76 patients who were admitted to hospital with Covid-19, 50 received activated vitamin D. The other 26 didn't get any vitamin D and all of the patients were tracked over their admission.
“Of the 50 patients who received vitamin D, only one went to ICU and recovered quickly and all 50 of these patients were discharged without complications.
“Of the 26 patients who didn't get vitamin D, 13 of them had to go to ICU and two of them died. Statistically, this equates to a 25-30 fold greater likelihood of being admitted to ICU amongst the people who didn't get this high dose vitamin D supplementation during their admission.
“The study from France provided older Covid-19 patients from nursing homes with high dose vitamin D supplements during their admission and monitored them for five to six weeks post-discharge from hospital.
“They found that 83 per cent of those who got vitamin D before leaving hospital were still alive five weeks later whereas in the group who didn't get vitamin D in hospital, only 44 per cent survived.
“The larger UK study was published in December and showed a seven-fold reduction in mortality amongst hospitalised Covid-19 patients who were given high dose vitamin D supplements during their admission.”
Dr McCartney advises that Irish adults take 20-25 micrograms (800-1000 iu) of vitamin D per day for the duration of the crisis, although older people and those who are obese or who have darker skin may need to take a higher dose in consultation with their GP.
“Supplementation is the answer here. It is not possible to get adequate amounts of vitamin D from food or sunshine at this time of year to achieve the blood levels necessary for enhanced immunity.
“There is a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in this country across all age groups meaning that all adults are
“The ideal supplement for adults in Ireland is 20-25 micrograms per day (800-1000 iu/day) taken with food, and that should be sufficient to get most people above the critical 50 nanomoles per litre blood vitamin D threshold where immunity against Covid-19 is enhanced.”