A review has been ordered into whether amounts of vitamin D in a person’s body could be linked to higher coronavirus mortality rates.
Researchers are looking into whether vitamin D – which humans synthesise when out in sunlight – helps protect against being infected by the deadly bug.
While the exact impact the vitamin can have is not yet known, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition began studying the potential impacts last month.
At the same time the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) is conducting a “rapid” evidence review on vitamin D in the context of Covid-19.
Last month Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge found a “crude” relationship between vitamin D levels and high mortality rates.
People in countries like Italy and Spain, where the elderly tend to avoid strong sunlight, were more likely die to die from the coronavirus than those in northern European countries, where cod liver oil and vitamin d supplements were more regularly consumed.
Dr Lee Smith, Reader in Physical Activity and Public Health at Anglia Ruskin University, said: “We found a significant crude relationship between average vitamin D levels and the number COVID-19 cases, and particularly COVID-19 mortality rates, per head of population across the 20 European countries.
“Vitamin D has been shown to protect against acute respiratory infections, and older adults, the group most deficient in vitamin D, are also the ones most seriously affected by COVID-19.
“A previous study found that 75% of people in institutions, such as hospitals and care homes, were severely deficient in vitamin D. We suggest it would be advisable to perform dedicated studies looking at vitamin D levels in COVID-19 patients with different degrees of disease severity.”
The UK does not fare well when it comes to vitamin D consumption however.
One in five British adults and one in six children is lacking in vitamin D, thanks to poor diets, indoor lifestyles and lack of sunshine.
Experts have expressed fears that the lockdown and months of indoor living have cut levels even further.
Some ethnic groups are at higher risk, because their skin is less able to produce the vitamin in response to sunlight, while the elderly are typically less efficient at vitamin D production.
Back in April Public Health England advised everyone to take the supplements.
Professor Adrian Martineau of Queen Mary University in London is leading a trial into whether certain lifestyle factors affect how susceptible people are to coronavirus infection.
He told The Guardian: “Vitamin D could almost be thought of as a designer drug for helping the body to handle viral respiratory infections.”
People should be careful when it comes to consuming vitamin D supplements however.
Large doses of the supplement can be dangerous – with anything above 100 micrograms to be taken only under medical supervision.
Too much of the vitamin can cause a toxic build up of calcium to build up in the blood, causing nausea and vomiting.