Updated: Apr 10, 2020
Last week the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), based in Trinity College, released interesting results from their research on vitamin D deficiency in the older Irish population. Their findings could have implications for our older population during this pandemic.
Vitamin D has been the topic of much research in the last number of years, and we are continuously learning of how important this nutrient is.
So far, there is evidence to suggest vitamin D:
is vital for bone health.
may help to prevent respiratory infections.
plays a role in immune function, and may have an anti-inflammatory affect.
Where do we get vitamin D?
Most of you will know vitamin D as the "sunshine vitamin", because our bodies to obtain vitamin D via the action of sunlight on our skin. But, it is important to remember that this is seasonal and dependent on our geography. In Ireland, we are only able to get vitamin D from the sun from late March/early April until late September/early October. Additionally, those living in the north & west of the country are likely to have less opportunity for vitamin D via sunlight, due to more northerly geography and less hours of sunlight per annum.
Other sources of vitamin D:
oily fish (including tinned)
fortified foods (E.G. some cereals & milks)
As well as where we live and season, there are other factors that impact our levels of vitamin D. Some of us are more at risk of vitamin D deficiency because of:
Age (older people are at greater risk)
Gender (men are more likely to become deficient)
Inactivity (those who are physically active are less likely to become deficient)
Smoking (smokers have a greater risk of deficiency)
Chronic lung diseases (those with chronic bronchitis or emphysema are at higher risk)
Weight (those at higher weight are at an increased risk of deficiency)
As you can see, there are only a few of these factors we can have an impact on, but most of it is out of our hands- we can't make Ireland closer to the sun or less cloudy, we can't change our gender or our age. But, we can supplement our diets with vitamin D!
What does all this have to do with COVID-19?
The research published is very important with regards to the COVID-19 situation for a few reasons:
1 in 4 over 70s (115,500 adults) are likely deficient in vitamin D and these adults have been advised to "cocoon".
Cocooning is a helpful way to protect this group from the virus and contain the spread, however it also means that these adults are to stay indoors. I.E. they won't be getting their 10-15 minutes sunshine for vitamin D production, and they are likely to have stopped or reduced their physical activity significantly.
Supplementation rates are low in this group (around 10% or less take a supplement).
Research suggests that low levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk of community-acquired pneumonia, while another study found that vitamin D supplementation reduced the risk of ARI (acute respiratory infections) by almost 30% (60%->32%). COVID-19 specifically affects the respiratory system, so for those with low vitamin D there is a potentially greater risk to health.
A vitamin D supplement could be very beneficial for those classed as "high risk" for COVID-19. For those who are house-bound or at risk, a supplement of 15-20mcg/day is recommended, and for those over 70 20-25mcg/day is recommended.
The general population of adults are advised to take 10mcg/day during winter months, however if you are house-bound due to COVID-19 it is advisable to continue supplementing. It is also important to note that vitamin D production is inhibited by suncream. Ideally, we should spend 10-15 minutes in the sunshine between 12-4pm without suncream for vitamin D absorption (After the 10 minutes, be sure to get your suncream on!).
As I mentioned, we are continuously learning about vitamin D, but it is amazing to think that one nutrient can play such a vital role in our health. It won't stop you from getting COVID-19, and it doesn't guarantee that you won't get sick, but aiming to increase your vitamin D can only help.
get outside every day if it is safe for you to do so
be active when you can
quit smoking if you can
include vitamin D-containing foods in your diet
And, if all else fails, consider a vitamin D supplement!
Lots of love,
Little O x