Emergent SARS-CoV-2 Strains and the Importance of Vitamin D

A consensus is emerging that serum vitamin D levels at or above 50 ng/ml significantly reduce the threat of severe COVID-19.

Great, yet another coronavirus variant of concern has exploded onto the scene.

To be clear, I have no idea what the new omicron variant is capable of doing.

What I do know is that you don’t have to wait helplessly for the COVID-19 hammer to strike you down. There are a variety of safe lifestyle interventions that you can use to improve your anti-viral defenses and reduce the risk of succumbing to severe COVID-19.

Vitamin D and COVID-19

For example, it’s been known for quite some time that many patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19 are vitamin D deficient. In particular, groups at higher risk of severe COVID-19, such as the elderly, people with dark skin, and people suffering chronic health conditions, also tend to have low serum vitamin D (1). So naturally, these observations led to the hypothesis that low vitamin D puts people at greater risk of severe COVID-19 disease (1).

However, an alternate hypothesis is that COVID-19 causes a decline in serum vitamin D. In this model, low vitamin D in patients results from severe COVID-19 disease (1).

Thus, despite the established roles of vitamin D in immune function, the role of vitamin D in COVID-19 therapy remains somewhat controversial.

What The Authors Did

Dr. Borsche and Colleagues carefully analyzed the relationship between serum vitamin D levels and COVID-19 disease severity (1). However, the study of Dr. Borsche focused on answering two crucial questions.

First, do serum vitamin D levels before SARS-CoV-2 infection predict COVID-19 disease severity?

Second, is there a serum vitamin D level that reduces the risk of severe COVID-19 to near-zero?

What the Authors Found

Question One: Do serum vitamin D levels before SARS-CoV-2 infection predict COVID-19 disease severity?

Critically, the Author’s focused their attention on studies that measured serum vitamin D levels in patients before they were infected. Focusing on pre-infection vitamin D levels allowed the researchers to assess whether vitamin D levels influenced the course of COVID-19 disease (1).

Notably, the Author’s found a negative correlation between pre-infection vitamin D levels and COVID-19 mortality (1). In other words, those patients who had low serum vitamin D before infection had a higher chance of dying from COVID-19.

Thus, low pre-infection vitamin D levels in patients significantly increase COVID-19 disease severity.

Question Two: Is there a serum vitamin D level that reduces the risk of severe COVID-19 to near-zero?

Next, the Authors focused on whether an optimal vitamin D level exists that maximally protects patients from severe COVID-19 (1). To answer this question, they combined the data from multiple independent studies. They then performed a regression analysis that compared a range of serum vitamin D levels with COVID-19 survival.

The results of their analysis were striking. In their research, COVID-19 mortality was reduced to near zero when serum vitamin D levels exceeded 50 ng/ml (1)! Reassuringly, an earlier study that analyzed over 190,000 patients also found that vitamin D levels are above 55 ng/ml significantly reduced mortality risk in COVID-19 patients (2).

Based on these findings, the Authors recommend a minimal vitamin D level of 50 ng/ml for optimal protection against COVID-19 mortality.

Natural Levels of Vitamin D in Hunter-Gatherers

A second approach to determine optimal vitamin D levels for human health is to look at the vitamin D levels in traditional hunter-gatherer societies. After all, the bulk of our evolutionary history occurred during our hunter-gatherer past. Therefore, it’s likely that evolution selected our optimal vitamin D levels during this time.

Reassuringly, Hadzabe hunter-gatherers living their traditional lifestyle have serum vitamin D levels at around 45-50 ng/ml (3). Therefore, the convergence of the hunter-gather and COVID-19 studies supports 50 ng/ml as the lower optimal serum vitamin D level for human health.

The Importance of Vitamin K2

Finally, the authors highlight the importance of additional vitamins for optimal immune function and safe supplementation (1).

First, co-supplementing with vitamin K2 mitigates long-term vitamin D supplementation’s potential adverse health consequences (4). Therefore, the Authors recommend co-supplementing vitamin D with vitamin K2 (1).

Second, the Authors highlight that optimal immune function requires additional micronutrients and vitamins such as selenium, magnesium, vitamin E, and vitamin C (1). The best way to obtain these nutrients is by following a healthy, balanced diet.

Take-Home Message

A consensus is emerging that a serum vitamin D level at or above 50 ng/ml is required for optimal human health and significantly reduces the threat of severe COVID-19.

Unfortunately, most people have vitamin D levels that are well below 50 ng/ml. In particular, the elderly, people with dark skin, those suffering chronic health conditions, and populations going through winter are at higher risk of experiencing vitamin D deficiency.

The good news is that co-supplementation of vitamin D with vitamin K2 can safely improve your vitamin D levels, putting you in the best position to survive COVID-19 (and other respiratory viral infections).

Omicron Vitamin D Infographic

References and Further Reading

1.            L. Borsche, B. Glauner, J. von Mendel, COVID-19 Mortality Risk Correlates Inversely with Vitamin D3 Status, and a Mortality Rate Close to Zero Could Theoretically Be Achieved at 50 ng/mL 25(OH)D3: Results of a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients 13,  (2021).

2.            H. W. Kaufman, J. K. Niles, M. H. Kroll, C. Bi, M. F. Holick, SARS-CoV-2 positivity rates associated with circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels. PLoS One 15, e0239252 (2020).

3.            M. F. Luxwolda, R. S. Kuipers, I. P. Kema, D. A. Dijck-Brouwer, F. A. Muskiet, Traditionally living populations in East Africa have a mean serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration of 115 nmol/l. Br J Nutr 108, 1557-1561 (2012).

4.            D. Mandatori et al., The Dual Role of Vitamin K2 in “Bone-Vascular Crosstalk”: Opposite Effects on Bone Loss and Vascular Calcification. Nutrients 13,  (2021).

Acknowledgments

Images created by m-imagephotography and Ridofranz

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Disrupted sleep increases anxiety and depression. Yoga Nidra is an effective method that has helped many people overcome insomnia.

Beautiful Woman Running On Treadmill

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