Experts urge vitamin D supplementation and call for research into possible COVID-19 benefits

People are being urged to take vitamin D supplements amid suggestions deficiency of the vitamin could have a role in the pathogenesis of COVID-19.

People from ethnic minority groups with dark skin should consider taking a vitamin D supplement all year round. | GETTY IMAGES
People from ethnic minority groups with dark skin should consider taking a vitamin D supplement all year round. | GETTY IMAGES

Two reviews by NICE and the Royal Society, published in June, have examined the potential role of vitamin D in the treatment and prevention of COVID-19. A third review also published in June by the government's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) looked at whether vitamin D can reduce the risk of acute respiratory tract infections in general. 

The three reviews all concluded that there is insufficient evidence to say that vitamin D is beneficial in patients with or at risk of COVID-19 or other respiratory tract infections. Nevertheless, the bodies all urge people to make sure they are getting enough of the vitamin.

In order to prevent vitamin D deficiency, NICE and SACN say everyone in the UK should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during autumn and winter months. They also advise that people whose skin has little to no exposure to sunlight and people from ethnic minority groups with dark skin, from African, Afro-Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds, should consider taking a vitamin D supplement all year round. This advice also applies to people who have little to no exposure to sunlight because they are indoors shielding or self-isolating. 

Stronger recommendation

The Royal Society has called on the government to issue stronger recommendations on vitamin D uptake than NICE's current advice, highlighting that the UK has one of the highest rates of vitamin D deficiency in Europe.

The Society points to several lines of evidence suggesting a possible role of vitamin D deficiency in the development of COVID-19, including the higher mortality rates in groups at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency such as people of black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background; people with higher BMI; and the institutionalised elderly. 

Dr Benjamin Jacobs, consultant paediatrician at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, welcomed the Royal Society's advice, saying: 'As a front-line paediatrician who continues to see children suffering the effects of vitamin D Deficiency including rickets, convulsions and cardiomyopathy, I feel we need not wait for more vitamin D COVID treatment trial results.  Even if COVID-19 turns out not to be a reason to take vitamin D there are plenty of health reasons for those at risk of deficiency to take it year-round and for all of us to take it in the winter months.'

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