COVID Update – Focus on Vitamin D

29 April 2020 — Dr. Malcolm Kendrick

by Dr. Malcolm Kendrick

I have found, I suspect like almost everyone else, that it is almost impossible to keep track of what is going on with COVID. Stories swirl and multiply, and almost everyone seems to be trying to get something out of it. People are claiming miracle cures and success – but it is difficult to verify any such claims.

The normal rules of research (flawed though they often are) have completely flown out of the window. It is like the wild west, with snake oil salesmen announcing wonderful products that not only cure COVID, but every other disease… I mean every other disease, known to man.

‘You sir, you look like an intelligent man, a man who understands science. A man who can see that my wonderful potion can cure almost every ailment that befalls man. Baldness, wrinkled skin, impotence, COVID… 

‘A vaccine you say sir, of course, I shall have one ready and done in four months, start to finish … safety sir, did you mention safety? No need for such things, vaccines are always safe, never caused anyone any harm. Never a single case of any problems.’

‘Narcolepsy sir… sounds like nonsense, never heard it. Guillain-Barré sir. My, we have been at the medical dictionary haven’t we? In my opinion, if you can’t spell it, you don’t need to worry about it. Sounds French to me anyway – and you can’t trust the French, can you?’

‘The WHO sir… what’s that you say? It may be that you can get infected twice. So how is any vaccine going to work. Well, I must say sir that vaccines are far more effective at creating immunity than getting the actual infection. Everyone knows that sir… what do you mean utter bollocks. I can tell you that a vaccine will always work, every time, guaranteed one hundred per cent effective, or your money back.’ 

‘Bill Gates is behind it all sir you say, pushing for mandatory vaccines for all diseases. You think it’s like something out of 1984. Well, Mr Gates is an expert in viruses sir, is he not…His operating system did allow a massive attack on IT systems in the NHS in 2017 sir. Now, if you will excuse me, I have more snake oil to sell… tatty bye sir, and good luck to you.’

‘Roll up, roll up.’

Which takes me to vitamin D. Which is my miracle cure for COVID.

I know that, in the West, the medical profession, hates vitamins with a passion. Those who promote vitamins are the very personification of woo, woo medicine. They have no proven beneficial effects they rant and on, and on. Insult and attack.

However, as I have been known to point out, the ‘vit’ in vitamin, stands for vital. As in, if you don’t take them, you die. So, they do kind of have important beneficial effects on the human body. Of course, I know the counter argument, which is not that vitamins are not necessary, of course they are, even doctors agree with that. The battle is about the optimal level for health.

We are told that almost everyone has sufficient vitamin intake from the food they eat, and that anything above that intake just creates expensive urine. In addition, some vitamins can be dangerous in excess. We have seen up to one death a year, in some cases.

Leaving the battles about vitamins to one side, what are the optimal levels of various vitamins? The answer is no-one really knows … for sure. The central problem here is that, when vitamins were first isolated, their deficiencies were creating major and obvious health problems. A lack of vitamin C caused scurvy – leading to death.

A lack of vitamin B1 a.k.a. thiamine led to Beriberi, with nerve and muscle damage and wasting and death. A severe lack of vitamin B12 lead to nerve damage, anaemia, weakness and death.

So, the focus was very much on finding the dose of vitamins required to prevent these serious health problems. However, no-one was particularly interested in looking beyond this bare minimum, to try and establish what level of a vitamin is associated with optimal health. For example, what are long term effects on cancer and heart disease – for example. Or prevention of infections.

Looking specifically at vitamin D, the major and immediate health problem caused by a lack of vitamin D is on bones. Without vitamin D, calcium is not absorbed properly and the bones become thin and brittle. Children with low vitamin D develop rickets, bent bones that do not grow properly.

Once the level of vitamin D required to protect the bones was established, that was pretty much seen as job done. However, is it better for health to have higher levels. Can we be optimally healthy with, what many believe, to be a low vitamin D level?

More importantly right now, does a higher level of vitamin D enable you to fight off infections such as influenza and COVID? Of course, as I stated at the beginning, in the middle of the COVID maelstrom, people are claiming everything about everything.

So, I am going to take you back to 2008 to look at Virology Journal – yes, this is about as mainstream as you can possibly get in the world of virus research. The article was called ‘On the epidemiology of influenza.’ If you want to get your mind blown, read it 1.

It set out to answer seven questions:

    1. Why is influenza both seasonal and ubiquitous and where is the virus between epidemics?
    2. Why are the epidemics so explosive?
    3. Why do epidemics end so abruptly?
    4. What explains the frequent coincidental timing of epidemics in countries of similar latitudes?
    5. Why is the serial interval obscure?
    6. Why is the secondary attack rate so low?
    7. Why did epidemics in previous ages spread so rapidly, despite the lack of modern transport?

Yes, I realise COVID is not Influenza, but past research on influenza is about as close as you can get. Cutting to the chase, of a very long article, the authors concluded the reason why flu was far more common in winter, is because people have much lower levels of Vitamin D.

Below is their graph of vitamin D levels in the UK, at different times of the year.

VitD1

These researchers then looked at what happened to people who took vitamin D supplements all year round. One group took placebo, one group took 800 international units (IU) a day – and one group took 800 IU per day but 2000 IU a day in the final year of the trial. Below is a graph of what they found.

VitD2

To put this another way, of those 104 subjects who took 2,000 IU of vitamin D every day, only one got a cold or influenza in the entire year.

Perhaps more importantly, if you do get infected with influenza, vitamin D (especially D3) has a potent effect on protecting endothelial cells. And damage to endothelial cells appears to be a key mechanism by which COVID creates the most severe, and potentially fatal, symptoms. Here is a section from the paper ‘Dietary Vitamin D and Its Metabolites Non-Genomically Stabilize the Endothelium.’

‘Vitamin D is a known modulator of inflammation. Native dietary vitamin D3 is thought to be bio-inactive, and beneficial vitamin D3 effects are thought to be largely mediated by the metabolite 1,25(OH)2D3…

Our data suggests the presence of an alternative signaling modality by which D3 acts directly on endothelial cells to prevent vascular leak. The finding that D3 and its metabolites modulate endothelial stability may help explain the clinical correlations between low serum vitamin D levels and the many human diseases with well-described vascular dysfunction phenotypes.’ 2

In short, it seems Vitamin D stops you getting infected with viruses and, even if you do get infected, it helps to mitigate the worst effects. This could explain results from a, not yet published study, looking at the severity of COVID infections vs. the level of Vitamin D in the blood 3.

VitD3

On the face of it, remarkable benefits. However, they fit with what is already known about the benefits of vitamin D on influenza.

Further supporting the role of vitamin D in COVID, it has been recognised in many countries that those with dark skin are more likely to get infected, and die, from COVID. Here from the Guardian (UK newspaper).

I am not alone in being alarmed at the preponderance of deaths from COVID-19 among those with dark skin (UK government urged to investigate coronavirus deaths of BAME doctors, 10 April). While COVID-19 is likely to magnify the effect of social deprivation, I don’t think this is the whole story.

Vitamin D is needed for many reasons, including correct functioning of the immune system. It is converted to its active form by the action of sunlight on the skin. This is impeded by having dark skin and leads to low levels of vitamin D. Supplementing with vitamin D3 at 5000iu daily corrects this deficiency, and it is now an urgent need for all people with dark skin (and most with white). There is a reasonable chance that vitamin D replacement could help reduce the risk we are seeing playing out so tragically in the BAME community 4.

So, what do we know?

  1. Dark skinned people are more likely to die from COVID
  2. Dark skinned people are more likely to have low vitamin D levels 5
  3. Vitamin D supplements protect against colds and flu – and hopefully COVID
  4. Higher levels of Vitamin D should be able to mitigate the damage caused by COVID

The increased risks of low vitamin D levels on COVID seem dramatic, and the benefits of supplementation with vitamin D could be just as dramatic. I have been going out into the sun wherever possible in the last month. I take Vitamin D3 supplements 4,000 units a day. I strongly advise everyone else to do the same.  It is snake oil, and it is free (if provided by the sun).

The only problem I see is that I cannot make any money out of this at all. Oh well. Perhaps I should claim to be making a vaccine, that could earn me billions.

1: https://virologyj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1743-422X-5-29

2: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0140370

3: https://www.grassrootshealth.net/blog/first-data-published-COVID-19-severity-vitamin-d-levels/

4: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/apr/10/uk-coronavirus-deaths-bame-doctors-bma

5: https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/136/4/1126/4664238

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