When you think of vitamin D, you probably think of its most famous health role: making strong bones. Indeed, vitamin D increases your body’s ability to absorb calcium and phosphorus, both of which are essential for bone health.
But Vitamin D can do much more, including:
- Supporting muscle growth
- Strengthening immune function
- Enhancing brain and nervous system function
- Regulating insulin levels in diabetic patients
Commonly known as the ‘sunshine vitamin,’ this nutrient is different than other vitamins that can’t be produced internally. The human body creates its own vitamin D in reaction to the skin’s exposure to sun.
Vitamin D and COVID-19
In addition to the broad-brush capabilities of vitamin D listed above, if you’ve been watching the headlines lately, you may have noticed a focus on another benefit of the vitamin: its role in reducing risks for COVID-19.
After many months of speculation on the vitamin D-COVID-19 correlation, a University of Chicago Medicine study examined the vitamin D levels of 489 patients. Their research revealed that people with untreated vitamin D deficiency were nearly twice as likely to contract COVID-19 as those who had sufficient levels of the vitamin.
More studies are needed to explore exactly what role vitamin D plays in reducing the risks of the virus, but it was encouraging news for people looking for something that they can do or take to stay healthy during the pandemic.
As compared to regions located close to the equator (with more ambient UVR or ultraviolet radiation), those farther away experience:
- More allergy-related hospital admissions for kids
- More epinephrine autoinjector prescriptions
- Up to six times greater risk for peanut allergy
In addition, people born in autumn and winter have been associated with an elevated risk for food allergies and anaphylactic reactions.
Finally, an Australian study showed that infants with low levels of vitamin D were more likely to have egg or peanut allergies than those with normal levels. (J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2013;131(4):1109–16).
As with the COVID-19-vitamin D research, more studies are needed to establish solid cause-and-effect evidence, but these are compelling correlations.
Am I Getting Enough Vitamin D?
A study published in Nutrition Research found that 41.6% of Americans have a vitamin D deficiency.
Certain populations are more at risk for this deficiency. For example, people who don’t get enough sun are often deficient in vitamin D. This might include people who are homebound due to physical limitations or those that live in places farther from the equator as described above.
Age is also a factor in vitamin D production. People over 50 are much more likely to be low on vitamin D.
Skin tone can make a difference, too. In the Nutrition Research study mentioned above, 82% of black people and 69% of Hispanic people had vitamin D deficiency—compared to the 41.6% national average. In general, fair-skinned people have a greater ability to convert sunlight into vitamin D than people with darker skin.
To find out if your vitamin D levels are high enough, talk to your physician. He or she can perform a simple blood test to determine whether or not your body is producing enough of the nutrient.
How do I Improve my Vitamin D Levels?
Spending 15-20 minutes outside in the sun is your best line of defense. Just make sure to wear sunscreen—it won’t hamper your body’s ability to make vitamin D, but it will lower cancer risks.
Eat foods that are rich in vitamin D. These include oily fish such as tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines. Eggs and liver also contain vitamin D, and a number of foods—such as cereal, milk, and orange juice—are vitamin D fortified.
Natural supplements can also bolster your vitamin D levels, but make sure you talk to your doctor before taking the supplement.
While the jury is still out on vitamin D’s exact role in driving down COVID-19 and food allergy risks, it’s well established that vitamin D does the body good in many ways, and its risks and side effects are low.
Be mindful that vitamin D is not a cure-all for either COVID-19 or allergies, but it can enhance medically approved treatments. In the case of allergies, if your quality of life is diminished by either food or pollen allergies, talk to your allergy doctor about sublingual immunotherapy. It’s a pain-free, hassle-free alternative to allergy shots that desensitizes the body to allergens through daily drops under the tongue.
Unlike antihistamines and other allergy medications, the drops are natural and free of the side effects of synthetic medications. They also address the source of the allergies, not just their symptoms. Contact AllergyEasy to learn more.