A “Striking” Link Between Vitamin D Levels and Omicron

New data reveal an unexpected risk factor for the highly contagious Omicron virus—low levels of vitamin D.

Source: Fernando Zhiminicela / Pixabay

A recent study by Israeli scientists found “striking” differences in the chances of contracting severe COVID-19 illness between individuals with sufficient levels of vitamin D prior to catching the virus and those who did not.

Half the vitamin-deficient people developed severe, life-threatening illness as compared to fewer than 10 percent of those who had normal levels. The study is the first to examine existing vitamin levels in people before they contracted COVID. “We found it remarkable, and striking,” said the lead author, “to see the difference in the chances of becoming a severe patient when you are lacking in vitamin D compared to when you’re not.”

The data come from 253 people who were admitted to a hospital between April 7, 2020 and February 4, 2021—a period of time before the highly-infectious Omicron variant appeared. The results, however, are “equally relevant” for Omicron as for previous strains, say the study authors.

Vitamin D is mostly synthesized naturally in human skin and requires direct exposure to sunlight. Artificial light, no matter how bright, doesn’t cut it. Given how the pandemic has kept many people primarily indoors for over two years, it is easy to see how a considerable number of individuals might have fallen below the threshold for adequate vitamin levels—which is at least 20 nanograms per milliliter of blood.

Diet plays a much lesser role in the vitamin’s intake and maintenance. It is soluble in fat rather than water, and found in foods such as fresh fatty fish, mushrooms, egg yolks, full-fat yoghurt, beef liver, and duck.

Sumanley Xulux / Pixabay

Source: Sumanley Xulux / Pixabay

Throughout the life span the vitamin regulates the metabolism of calcium, which is crucial for the development and maintenance of healthy bones. It prevents rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults. The latter results in brittle bones and, correspondingly, otherwise avoidable fractures. Muscle and bone weakness also render individuals prone to falls. Its active metabolite acts as a hormone that targets the kidney and other organs, giving it a role in heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and immune vitality.

Research published in The Lancet and compiled before the emergence of COVID varieties found that, compared to dummy drugs, adequate vitamin D also reduced the risk of contracting other respiratory infections.

The Israeli researchers cautioned that vitamin D was only “one piece of the complex puzzle” underlying cases of severe COVID-19. It alone doesn’t constitute proof of cause. Yet it does seem to serve as a useful marker to flag individuals who may go on to develop serious illness.

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