What You Need To Know About COVID-19, Vitamin D And The Sun.
Author: Dr David Shaw, a skin and cosmetic GP at Kingscliff Health medical and allied health centre in Kingscliff, NSW.
Ok, so there’s been a whole lotta myths and mystery out there about COVID – I’m thinking particularly of hydroxychloroquine and Bill Gates, but you could no doubt think of others. However, the evidence is mounting that vitamin D and careful sunlight exposure could have a beneficial effect in preventing and reducing the severity of COVID. Highly respected experts such as Professor Peter Ebeling, head of Medicine at Monash University are taking notice.
So, what is the evidence? Well, it has been known for some years that vitamin D is anti-inflammatory (remember that COVID kills people primarily through an over reaction of the body’s immune system causing severe inflammation particularly in the lungs). It also is known to increase the body’s ability to directly destroy viruses. And remarkably, it blocks the ACE receptor (which is the entry port into cells for COVID virus). In large trials, >30,000 people, vitamin D reduces the number of respiratory virus infections (colds and flu) in individuals by between 14 and 25%, depending on dose. It also reduces the severity of infections. Specifically to COVID, there is a direct effect on death rates with increasing latitude (that is distance from the equator). A recently study demonstrated a 4% increase in death for every degree you move away from the equator and a huge 14% increase for every degree past 65 degrees latitude.
Vitamin D is obtainable from sunlight (UVB) exposure to skin, particularly in the middle of the day. UVB levels are quite low at the ends of the day. It can also be obtained through supplements. However, in addition to the effects of vitamin D, there are direct anti-inflammatory effects of UVB/sunlight. It has been shown that low level UVB exposure suppresses the immune cells of the skin triggering a response which then regulates the level of immune reactions throughout the body. This seems to be the mechanism by which the autoimmune disease Multiple Sclerosis is prevented in lower latitudes (areas nearer to the equator). Other examples of this phenomenon are sun/UVB treatment for the skin disease psoriasis and sun over-exposure leading to cold sore outbreaks. Excess sun can suppress the skin’s immune system to the point that skin cancers can flourish. Clearly too much immune suppression is clearly not good either! And then there is the Victorian outbreak. When it comes to COVID, we know that most of the COVID disease and deaths in Victoria are in places where sun exposure is very limited – either in aged care settings or in regions with populations who for cultural reasons often avoid sun exposure.
So what does this all mean? There is a large trial underway to determine definitely if vitamin D supplements are protective against COVID. Unfortunately results won’t be available for 6 months. In the meantime, it seems prudent to undertake this simple safe intervention. I would suggest taking 1000-2000iu per day of vitamin D (drops or capsules) or getting 5 minutes of midday winter sunlight on each side of the trunk/limbs (but not face due to skin cancer risk) on 2-4 days per week. If nothing else it should reduce the number and severity of colds you get!
Dr David Shaw is a highly experienced skin and cosmetic GP with areas of interest in dermatology, skin cancer checks, skin cancer surgery, and cosmetic injectables. Book an appointment online with Dr David Shaw or call us on 02 6670 1400.
* The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. You must consult your doctor before acting on the information in this article, especially if you have concerns regarding health related issues for yourself and your family.