Several promising studies suggest that vitamin D not only lessens your risk of contracting COVID-19 but can protect against the disease’s more serious side effects. While the National Institute of Health advises, "there is insufficient data to recommend either for or against the use of vitamin D for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19," a growing body of research may soon change that. Read on to find out what vitamin D is, why we need it, and where we can find it.
The ABCs of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin (meaning it dissolves and activates in fats and oils) that functions like a steroid hormone, regulating the amount of calcium and phosphate in our bodies. While the link between vitamin D deficiency and poor bone health leading to rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults has been widely studied, recent studies suggest that vitamin D deficiency might increase the risk of upper respiratory infections and help to prevent autoimmune diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular disease. But before we unpack the science of it, let's take a look at who's at risk for vitamin D deficiency.
Who’s at Risk?
Nicknamed the sunshine vitamin, we get most of our vitamin D from the sun and some plants and animals (more on that later). But despite having the equivalent of a giant orb of vitamin D shining down on us on a near-daily basis, vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world. In fact, up to 42% of the U.S. population has low levels of vitamin D. This rate rises to 82% in Black people and 70% in Hispanics due to the increased melanin in their skin, which lowers the skin's ability to make vitamin D. Other populations at risk live far south or north of the equator, infants, obese individuals and the elderly.
How Much Do I Need?
That depends on whom you ask. According to the National Academy of Medicine, an intake of around 400–800 IU, or 10–20 micrograms, is adequate for 97.5% of individuals. But a study showed that to maintain sufficient blood levels of vitamin D, a daily intake of 1120–1680 IU was necessary. And while you should check with a doctor first to determine if you are deficient, the National Academy of Medicine says 4000 IU is the safe upper limit. There is also data that suggest about 1000 IU per 25 lbs of body weight is the total required. But hey, at the end of the day, ya gotta do your own research.
Where Can I Get It?
As mentioned, for the most abundant supply of vitamin D, head outside. The sunlight's UV rays will interact with your skin and cause your body to start producing vitamin D. Five to thirty minutes of strong sun on exposed arms and legs are usually enough to meet most people's lower daily requirements. Still, unless you live down south, chances are you're not wearing shorts in December. In another one of those "our bodies are a wonderland" moments, extra vitamin D that we don't use is stored in our bodies for later. Like rollover minutes, our bodies draw on those endless summer days long after they're gone.
Foods are another great source of vitamin D. Fatty fish like salmon, fish liver oils, and egg yolks all contain it, but if you're looking for a vegan/vegetarian option, your best and only bet is to consume mushrooms. Proving their mind-blowing abilities once again, mushrooms produce vitamin D when exposed to the sun, much as humans do. To get the most out of your mushroom, place them in sunlight for 15-30 minutes before eating or, if you've got a UV lamp handy, give them a quick burst of light. A study found that receiving just three pulses of light from a UV lamp increased vitamin D levels in oyster mushrooms by a whopping 1618%.
And while the types of vitamin D that is contained in mushrooms compared to animal sources is different (mushrooms contain vitamin D2, animal proteins vitamin D3, in a comparison of the two, the New England Journal of Medicine found that, other than D3's ability to hang around in the bloodstream for weeks, compared to days for D2, there was no real advantage to taking one type over another. Another very important tip is to take K2 with your vitamin D, they play very well together.
What About The Science?
Here's where things get promising. In a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, researchers tested vitamin D levels of 216 COVID-19 patients from a hospital in Spain and found 82.2 % were deficient in vitamin D. Another study found of 191,000 COVID-19-positive patients, those who had a vitamin D deficiency were 54.5 percent more likely to acquire the disease. In another study, those who had sufficient vitamin D levels were 51.5 percent less likely to die from the disease, and had a significantly reduced risk of experiencing complications.
So there you have it! Head into winter with a healthy supply of vitamin D by getting plenty of sunshine and eating–or drinking–your mushrooms. Try our organic mushroom lattes here! Vitamin D included.