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A simple vitamin might help save coronavirus patients’ lives

Published May 11th, 2020 1:03PM EDT
Coronavirus Treatment
Image: Martin Meissner/AP/Shutterstock

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  • A brand new coronavirus study says that there may be a correlation between vitamin D levels and the severity of COVID-19 cases.
  • Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with an increased risk of developing a more severe case.
  • Researchers haven’t actually conducted clinical trials to monitor vitamin D levels and use the vitamin as part of therapy for coronavirus patients.
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The first vaccine capable of preventing novel coronavirus infections might be ready this fall for emergency use. If all goes well, the general public could then have access to a vaccine sometime soon after in early 2021. But the world’s entire population will have to be inoculated fully eradicate the disease and prevent other outbreaks. This task will take years, and that’s assuming the vaccines work. The virus could always mutate and impact any vaccines’ efficacy. That’s why it’s important to also develop drugs that can improve the prognosis of COVID-19 patients, speed up the recovery, and reduce the risk of complications and death.

Several such therapies have been detailed recently. Remdesivir, blood thinners, a triple-drug combo, and a drug used to treat prostate cancer are all examples of coronavirus therapies that worked on certain patients and deserve more attention. On top of that, a team of researchers at Stanford is working on a treatment that could help coronavirus patients if it’s administered early enough. Elsewhere, researchers think they’ve found a correlation between a simple vitamin and the severity of COVID-19 cases.

Scientists from Northwestern University and the Boston Medical Center concluded in a study that vitamin D might play a role in suppressing the cytokine storm and reduce the risk of death in COVID-19 patients. The new study hasn’t been peer-reviewed, but it’s available in a pre-publish format over at medRxiv.

The researchers looked at patient data from various countries, including China, France, Germany, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States. They used previously known data about vitamin D, C-reactive proteins (CRP), and COVID-19 deaths. Using this data, they concluded that patients with lower levels of vitamin D were more likely to die of COVID-19 complications than people with higher levels. The data applies only to patients from three European countries with a high death count, Italy, Spain, and the UK.

A link between Vit D status and COVID-19 A-CMR in the US, France, and the UK (countries with similar screening status) may exist. Combining COVID-19 patient data and prior work on Vit D and CRP levels, we show that the risk of severe COVID-19 cases among patients with severe Vit D deficiency is 17.3% while the equivalent figure for
patients with normal Vit D levels is 14.6% (a reduction of 15.6%).

The risk reduction might not seem that significant, but every little bit counts when lives are at stake. If a vitamin could boost the immune response in severe COVID-19 cases and lead to a lower risk of complications, that could warrant its inclusion in therapy protocols. However, you shouldn’t attempt to treat yourself with vitamin D just because a pre-review study says it could help. The same goes for vitamin C, a star of supposed COVID-19 remedies that circulated on social media in the early days of the pandemic. You should take these supplements only if a doctor instructs you to.

As a reminder, the study hasn’t been reviewed by peers. Also, the research is only a statistical analysis of available data. The actual vitamin D levels of those patients have not been measured while they were hospitalized. Instead, the study uses previous research that correlates CRP with vitamin D deficiency and severe COVID-19. CRP was used to estimate vitamin D levels in patients.

Further research is clearly required, including an actual trial where vitamin D levels are monitored on hospitalized patients, and the authors say as much:

This potential effect [reduced severity of COVID-19] may be attributed to Vit D’s ability to suppress the adaptive immune system, regulating cytokine level and thereby reducing the risk of developing severe COVID-19. For more accurate estimates, future work needs to account for more factors and to collect patientlevel data, particularly regarding Vit D levels.

The full study is available at this link.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.