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Matt Hancock: ‘There is no downside to vitamin D’ – as evidence grows that it could help in Covid-19 fight

The Health Secretary Matt Hancock says he now supports people taking vitamin D, amid growing evidence that those who are deficient in the ‘sunshine vitamin’ fare worse when infected with Covid-19. The College of Medicine has long advocated taking Vitamin D to boost general health.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock last week told Parliment that the Government would be increasing public messaging around the benefits of taking vitamin D (Credit: pixabay/TimHill)

Mr Hancock told Labour MP Rupa Huq on Friday morning: “On the point about vitamin D, I have asked the scientists to look once again at the impact of vitamin D on resistance to immunity. There has been some updated evidence that has come to light in the last few weeks and I want to make sure this is fully taken into account.”

He added: “I can also tell her that we will be increasing the public messaging around vitamin D to make sure that people get the message that vitamin D can help with your broad health and that there is no downside to taking it – and therefore people should consider that.”

The College of Medicine Chair, Dr Michael Dixon, said: “We’re pleased to see the position long held by the College of Medicine on Vitamin D is now being supported by Government and the Secretary of State.”

Last month, a new study added further evidence that being deficient in vitamin D could leave people at greater risk of catching Covid-19.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Inflammation and Ageing examined NHS staff who’d tested positive for the virus while working at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, which cared for a huge amount of patients with coronavirus at the pandemic’s height.

VITAMIN D FAST FACTS

  • Known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because natural daylight is the easiest way for humans to absorb it
  • Few food groups are rich in vitamin D but oily fish, egg yolks and mushrooms are among those foods
  • The NHS defines deficiency as anything below 25 ng/mL with adaquate levels around 50 ng/mL

The study found that 72 per cent of those workers, which included staff from all major departments of the hospital including junior doctors, physiotherapists, and secretaries, who were found to carry Covid-19 SARS-CoV-2 antibodies also had low vitamin D levels.

Research has already shown that the vitamin, often called the ‘sunshine vitamin’, can help protect against the common cold and offer a boost to the immune system. Adequate levels of the vitamin are usually considered over 50 ng/mL, with the NHS defining low levels at under 25ng/mL.

Just 51 per cent of staff who had adequate amounts of vitamin D tested positive for antibodies. The difference was greater amongst employees from Black, Asian or ethnic minorities (BAME), who are more susceptible to a vitamin D deficiency because darker skin makes it harder to absorb it from the sun.

Professor David Thickett, from the University of Birmingham, said of the latest research: “Our study has shown that there is an increased risk of Covid-19 infection in healthcare workers who are deficient in vitamin D (Credit: pixabay/skeeze)

Scientists at the university tested blood samples from 392 NHS healthcare workers at the end of the first peak of the virus in the UK – over two weeks in May. The blood was tested first for antibodies and then for vitamin D levels, with a deficiency defined as anything below 30 ng/mL.

While 55 per cent of NHS staff tested had antibodies, there was an increase in the detection of the SARS-CoV-2 protein in those who had a defined vitamin D deficiency – around 72 per cent of people tested.

The results showed vitamin D deficiency was more likely to occur in males, those who had a higher BMI and members of the BAME community. 94 per cent of BAME men lacking in vitamin D tested positively for antibodies, compared to 52 per cent who had good levels of the vitamin.  

Further analysis of symptoms found that workers who were found to have low levels of vitamin D were more likely to report symptoms of body aches and pains and fever – although there was no difference in coughs and breathlessness reported when compared to those with higher levels of vitamin D.  

Speaking about the research, Professor David Thickett from the University of Birmingham said: “Our study has shown that there is an increased risk of Covid-19 infection in healthcare workers who are deficient in vitamin D. 

“Our data adds to the emerging evidence from studies in the UK and globally that individuals with severe Covid-19 are more Vitamin D deficient than those with mild disease.

“Our results, combined with existing evidence further demonstrates the potential benefits of vitamin D supplementation in individuals at risk of vitamin D deficiency or who are shown to be deficient as a way to potentially alleviate the impact of Covid-19.” 

In May, research from scientists at three UK universities concluded that vitamin D could be useful in the fight against COVID-19.

The study, ‘The role of vitamin D in the prevention of Coronavirus Disease 2019 infection and mortality’, remains unpublished but suggested a deficiency in the vitamin could contribute to less successful outcomes in the fight against the virus.

The UK-based research, led by Petre Cristian Ilie, from The Queen Elizabeth Hospital Foundation, Simina Ștefănescu from the University of East Anglia and Lee Smith from Anglia Ruskin University, examined vitamin D levels in the residents of 20 European countries.

The results, they said, showed ‘the mean level of vitamin D in each country was strongly associated’ with higher levels of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

The NHS defines deficiency as anything below 25 ng/mL with adaquate levels around 50 ng/mL (Credit: Pixabay)

Researchers at the time added that residents of countries with low mean levels of vitamin D, including Italy and Spain, were among the nations with the highest recorded deaths from the virus.

The study concluded: “We found significant relationships between vitamin D levels and the number COVID–19 cases and especially the mortality caused by this infection. The most vulnerable group of population for COVID–19 is also the one that has the most deficit in Vitamin D.”

Read the full unpublished paper here