Vitamin D

vitamin d

In early April, a crucial report in response to the COVID 19 pandemic by The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin, found that Vitamin D plays a critical role in preventing respiratory infections, reducing antibiotic use, and boosting the immune system response to infections.

Key findings were:

  • 1 in 8 adults over 50 are deficient all year round
  • 47% of all adults over 85 are deficient in winter 
  • 27% of adults over 70 who are ‘cocooning’ are estimated to be deficient
  • Only 4% of men and 15% of women take a Vitamin D supplement
  • Supplementation is low across the nation and particularly low in men

‘’We have evidence to support a role for Vitamin D in the prevention of chest infections, particularly in older adults who have low levels. In one study Vitamin D reduced the risk of chest infections to half in people who took supplements. Though we do not know specifically of the role of Vitamin D in COVID infections, given its wider implications for improving immune responses and clear evidence for bone and muscle health, those cocooning and other at-risk cohorts should ensure they have an adequate intake of Vitamin D. Cocooning is a necessity but will reduce physical activity. Muscle deconditioning occurs rapidly in these circumstances and Vitamin D will help to maintain muscle health and strength in the current crisis.” 

Professor Rose Anne Kenny, Principal Investigator of TILDA

Vitamin D is available without prescription and the clear guidance now is for people to increase their Vitamin D intake, not just in winter, but all year round if they don’t get enough sun.

While the report recommends a minimum supplement of 400iu, you will see signs in most pharmacies now recommending a daily dose minimum of 800iu but up to 2000iu in some cases.

The 800iu minimum concurs with guidance to many cancer patients whose oncologists can recommend a daily Vitamin D supplement of 800iu.

However,  it is important to consult your pharmacist or GP when choosing the right dose for you.

People in need of higher doses can include:

  • People with darker skin (more difficult to make Vitamin D)
  • People with limited exposure to natural daylight – this can include shift workers, nursing and residential home residents, people who are house-bound or who are physically inactive
  • People who eat inadequate amounts of fortified foods
  • People who are obese and/or have asthma or chronic lung disease.
  • Those who are ‘cocooning’ at present.

 ‘‘These findings show our older adults have high levels of vitamin D deficiency which could have a significant negative impact on their immune response to infection. There is an even larger risk now of deficiency with those cocooning or confined indoors. However, Ireland needs a formal vitamin D food policy/recommendation, which we are still lacking – for instance Finland has such a policy and has virtually eliminated deficiency in their population.”

Dr Eamon Laird, Research Fellow in Medical Gerontology and co-author of the report

FAST FACTS – How Vitamin D is produced

Vitamin D is produced in the skin by exposing the body to just 10-15 minutes per day of sun. In Ireland Vitamin D can only be made between late March and late September. It cannot be made in winter, and the amount that we make in summer depends on how much sun we get, weather and other factors. Even in summer, getting a sufficient amount of Vitamin D can pose a challenge due to cloud cover, rainy weather and a lack of sunshine.

The good news is that deficiency can be remedied by adequate intake of foods and by supplementation. Vitamin D is also readily found in foods like eggs, liver and oily fish – such as salmon or mackerel – as well as fortified foods such as cereals and dairy products.

See the full report ‘Vitamin D deficiency in Ireland – implications for COVID 19. Results from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA)’ below:

Click to access Report_Covid19VitaminD.pdf

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