November 3, 2020
Clinical Contributors to this Story
Ciro Carafa, M.D. contributes to topics such as Internal Medicine.
There’s growing evidence that an often-overlooked vitamin may have a protective effect against COVID-19, according to recent research.
Several studies have shown that COVID-19 patients who are deficient in vitamin D are more likely to experience serious illness, severe complications and increased risk of death. And one study showed that when hospitalized COVID-19 patients took oral vitamin D supplements as part of their treatment, they were significantly less likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit than COVID-19 patients who didn’t receive vitamin D supplements.
“Doctors and researchers are still learning a lot about the novel coronavirus as it moves through our communities, but it does appear that having sufficient levels of vitamin D in your system may offer some protection from the worst that COVID-19 has to offer,” says Ciro Carafa, M.D. and internal medicine specialist at Hackensack Meridian Medical Group.
Why vitamin D helps and where to find it
Vitamin D helps the immune system function smoothly, so having sufficient levels in your body may help you fight COVID-19 if you get sick.
Your skin makes vitamin D when it’s exposed directly to sunlight. If you spend the bulk of your time indoors, you may not produce much vitamin D on your own. You can get the nutrient from your diet, but there aren’t many foods that are rich in vitamin D. Taking dietary supplements is another option.
Common sources of vitamin D include:
- fatty fish, like salmon
- egg yolks
- fortified dairy products, like milk and yogurt
- fortified non-dairy milk products, including almond, soy and oat milk
- fortified orange juice
- fortified breakfast cereals
- dietary supplements
How to find out if you’re vitamin D deficient
You may be deficient in vitamin D and not realize it. About 40 percent of Americans are believed to have lower-than-recommended levels. You can learn your vitamin D status if your doctor orders a blood test to check your levels.
Some people are more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency than others. Americans with darker-colored skin are less efficient at producing their own vitamin D. Older adults may experience deficiency, because their skin may not make vitamin D as well as it did years earlier and they may not get outdoors as often.
How to supplement with vitamin D
If you learn that you’re vitamin-D deficient, ask your doctor how to safely increase your levels. Your doctor may recommend any or all of the following:
- spending more time outdoors in sunlight
- eating foods that are rich in vitamin D
- taking vitamin D supplements
Vitamin D3 supplements may be easier for your body to absorb than D2 supplements. If you’re 65 or under, your doctor may recommend 600 IU (international units) of vitamin D3 daily. If you’re older than 65, you may need 800 IU daily.
For a severe deficiency, your doctor may suggest a higher dosage. Too much vitamin D can lead to health problems, including nausea, vomiting or kidney stones, so don’t supplement unnecessarily; only take vitamin D if your doctor recommends it.
Next Steps & Resources:
- Meet our source: Ciro Carafa, M.D.
- To make an appointment with Dr. Carafa, or a doctor near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website.
- Boston University School of Medicine Study
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.