Coronavirus: Why you should consider taking a vitamin D supplement
We talked to doctors about what vitamin D does for you, and whether or not you should consider taking a supplement, as the coronavirus lockdown continues.
If you're spending most of your time indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic, it's important to take care of yourself. Ensuring you're still getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs is essential, especially if you're lacking energy, and not eating as healthy as you usually do. One vitamin you should be keeping in mind right now is vitamin D, especially with the lack of sunlight you're getting, while inside the house.
Why do you need vitamin D?
"Vitamin D is important because it helps regulate calcium levels and phosphate," says Dr Ritu Chawla, an orthopaedic surgeon based in Delhi. She adds that the fat-soluble vitamin is important in bone mineralization — as well as other roles it serves in the body. "It's the primary vitamin that helps keep your bones and teeth healthy, as well as your muscles. Proper levels of vitamin D can also significantly affect your energy levels, which is why tiredness is common when you have a deficiency," explains Dr Chawla.
If you're staying inside, should you take a vitamin D supplement?
Even in lockdown, Dr Chawla says you're likely still taking in enough sunlight through your windows. However, if you're concerned that there's just not enough light in your space — because your apartment sits in the shadow of a neighbouring building, for example — it's worth having a conversation with your doctor, she explained. "Older adults should also strongly consider a supplement, because they need more vitamin D per day. Moreover, those with darker-coloured skin should keep an eye on their vitamin D levels, because the increased melanin in their skin makes it harder to absorb sunlight," says Dr Chawla. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency — most commonly tiredness — and check with your doctor if you're concerned.
How much vitamin D should you take?
Adults under the age of 70 need 600 IU of vitamin D daily. Dr Chawla, recommends 800 IU of vitamin D for those over 70. Common food sources of vitamin D are fatty fish, or fish oils, egg yolks, and vitamin D fortified milk, says Dr Chawla. "With a combination of those foods, and even just a little sunlight, you should get your recommended dosage of vitamin D; if you need a supplement, though, ask your doctor for a recommendation," she says.
Can vitamin D supplements stop the coronavirus?
It’s important to note that there’s currently no cure for COVID-19; and no preventive measures other than physical distancing, also known as social distancing, and proper hygiene practices can protect you from developing this disease. That said, research shows that having healthy levels of vitamin D, as well as taking a vitamin D supplement, may protect against respiratory illnesses in general. Some studies suggest avoiding deficiency helps our resilience to common colds and flu, although there is no evidence that vitamin D boosts the immune system.
Studies say low vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of respiratory diseases, including tuberculosis, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as viral, and bacterial respiratory infections. "Keep in mind that there’s no scientific evidence that taking supplemental vitamin D can protect you from developing COVID-19. However, vitamin D is critical for immune function. A deficiency in this nutrient may compromise immune response, and increase your susceptibility to overall infection and disease by harming immune function," says Dr Chawla.
If you're going outside, you'll need to take precautions
Being asked to stay at home can be challenging, particularly if you're dealing with a lot of nervous energy right now. With the 24-hour coverage of the global coronavirus crisis growing more unsettling every day, you may find yourself craving some sense of normalcy by getting some much-needed sunlight, and fresh air. "During this pandemic, it is only safe to go outside, when necessary, and as long as you continue to practice physical distancing. That means staying at least six feet away from other people, whether you are going for grocery shopping, or walking your dog," says Dr Anubhav Gupta, a general physician based in Delhi. But keep in mind, this might not be as simple as you'd think. "This might take some careful planning, especially for people who live in high-density areas," says Dr Gupta.
Dr Gupta went on to explain that there are steps you can take to ensure you keep a safe distance from others. "This might include some awkward, but important manoeuvres. For example, you may need to change the side of the street you're walking on, if you see people headed your way — and while that may typically seem rude, health and safety (yours and theirs) takes precedence right now," Dr Gupta explained. Additionally, this is not the time to meet up with a friend and go for a walk. "While it's hard to comprehend, we know that asymptomatic people might still be carriers of COVID-19, and they can infect others. So, stay home to help prevent the spread, and save lives," he says.