No real evidence Vitamin D effective to treat or prevent COVID-19
The ongoing pandemic has seen a wide variety of untested, off-the-shelf COVID-19 treatments being suggested. From former US President Donald Trump’s infamous disinfectants to more traditional herbal remedies, the promise of a simple protection from the deadly virus has proven to be an appealing one.
Despite the absence of no definitive evidence that Vitamin D can prevent or effectively treat COVID-19, stockists say South Africans are clambering to get their hands on the so-called “sunshine drug”.
Why Vitamin D is so appealing
Vitamin D is created naturally by the body using sunlight and is particularly important for bone health. But it is also important for a healthy immune system, with some doctors saying there seems to be an association between those with lower levels of Vitamin D and an increased susceptibility to infection.
This is what appears to be driving people to supplement with Vitamin D in the hope it may help reduce the risk of contracting or fending off COVID-19.
No evidence Vitamin D is effective against COVID-19
A new study from geneticists at Brunel University London, published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health, has found no evidence that a person’s Vitamin D levels affect how severely they suffer from contracting COVID-19.
This view is shared by Marjanne Senekal, professor in nutritional science in the department of human biology at the University of Cape Town.
“There is no evidence to make a recommendation that any amount of Vitamin D could treat or prevent COVID-19,” Senekal said in a 2020 article on Spotlight.
“For people to be sufficient [in Vitamin D] is extremely important, but it’s a completely different issue than using Vitamin D as a short-term treatment [for COVID-19].”
Wellness Warehouse co-founder Dr Sean Gomes told CapeTalk the retailer had definitely seen an increase in demand.
Gomes said Wellness Warehouse currently stocked Vitamin D products from 11 different suppliers.
He added that Vitamin D deficiency was very common and that people could boost their levels of the vitamin without supplements by making sure certain foods were part of their regular diet. Food like fatty fish and even cod liver oil are important, as is having healthy sun exposure.
Caution against high-dose supplementation
Senekal and Professor Robin Wood, director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, both cautioned against taking too much Vitamin D through supplementation, as this could be harmful to the body and had no proven preventative effect against disease.
“Consistently high levels [of vitamin D] in the blood above a particular cut-off is associated or results in high calcium levels, which over time results in negative effects,” Senekal told Spotlight.
“There is no quality evidence at this stage to suggest that large doses of Vitamin D are effective in preventing and treating COVID-19.” Senekal added the public should not attempt high levels of supplementation.
Wood also told Spotlight there was limited research on people’s Vitamin D status in South Africa.
“We’re making intelligent guesses. We don’t have enough data.”
Vitamin D can be beneficial in general
The team involved with the British study stressed they did not seek to discourage people taking Vitamin D supplements, which could have other positive health effects.
“But if they do choose to take Vitamin D, there is no evidence it’ll protect them from COVID-19 and they should keep following existing guidance to stay safe,” project leader Dr Fotios Drenos, of Brunel University London, said.
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