Some research does suggest that high rates of death from COVID-19 are related to very low levels of vitamin D. This news emerged from a Northwestern University study of data from China, the U.S., the U.K. and a number of European countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland as well as Iran and South Korea.
The Northwestern team found that patients from countries with a high number of deaths from COVID-19 also had lower levels of vitamin D compared with patients in countries that weren’t as severely affected. Study leader Vadim Backman, Ph.D., said he and his team focused on vitamin D levels after seeing unexplained differences in COVID-19 deaths from country to country. Dr. Backman was skeptical that the quality of healthcare, the age differences in the populations, testing rates, or strain variations of the coronavirus were responsible for differences in the mortality rates. He wrote that none of these factors appeared to play a significant role and that differences in complications and death rates exist even if one looks across the same age group. And, while restrictions on testing vary, he said, “The disparities in mortality still exist even when we looked at countries or populations for which similar testing rates apply. Instead, we saw a significant correlation with vitamin D deficiency.”
After researching available patient data from around the world, Dr. Backman and his team discovered a strong correlation between vitamin D levels and cytokine storm – a serious consequence of COVID-19 infection caused by an overactive immune system – as well as a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and deaths. One of the investigators noted that cytokine storm “can severely damage lungs and lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome.” He added that this is what seems to kill a majority of COVID-19 patients, “not the destruction of the lungs by the virus itself. It is the complications from the misdirected fire from the immune system.”
Dr. Backman believes vitamin D plays a major role in this scenario since it modulates our innate immune response and prevents it from becoming dangerously overactive. He suggests that having optimum vitamin D levels could protect patients with COVID-19 against severe complications and might cut the death rate in half. He adds, however, that while it is important to know that vitamin D deficiency might play a role in COVID-19 deaths, the new findings need further study.
Long before COVID-19 appeared, I recommended that everyone take 2000 IU of vitamin D daily, not only because it assists in the absorption of calcium and promotes bone mineralization but for its many other health benefits. It helps support the immune system, protects against a number of serious diseases including rickets and osteomalacia, and may provide protection from hypertension, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and influenza. And maybe COVID-19. Here’s where you can read more about the health benefits of vitamin D.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Vadim Backman et al, “The Possible Role of Vitamin D in Suppressing Cytokine Storm and Associated Mortality in COVID-19 Patients.” medRxiv, April 30, 2020