LONDON (CBS) Vitamin D is key for maintaining healthy bones, and not having enough can affect the immune system and inflammation. Now, new research from Northwestern University shows patients with severe vitamin D deficiency are more likely to experience serious complications of COVID-19 and higher death rates.
"Several groups we have identified which have high risk of mortality from COVID-19, such as African Americans or the elderly, most of them do have very low levels of vitamin D," said Dr. Vadim Backman, a professor of biomedical engineering, medicine and molecular genetics at Northwestern University.
Backman led the research. He says while vitamin D doesn’t prevent COVID-19, it may help enhance the immune system "and prevent the immune system for overreacting to the virus, causing damage-- organ damage, including lung damage, because of the overreaction, what is called cytokine storm."
The sun is a good source of vitamin D, and experts say many people are likely deficient coming out of a gloomy winter in addition to spending more time indoors during the pandemic. Other studies are looking into the link between latitude, vitamin D and COVID-19. A University of Liverpool study shows countries north of the equator experience higher death rates. A Canadian study finds latitude and temperature are not associated with the spread of the virus.
Backman advises patients should talk to their doctor before taking supplements.
"If a patient is vitamin D deficient, there are all the benefits to fix this problem," he said.
Backman cautions against taking high doses of vitamin D, which can have negative side effects. Diet can also help increase your vitamin D. Foods rich in the vitamin include fish, cheese, egg yolks, and fortified yogurt and cereal.