Travelpharm’s Guide to Vitamin D and the Coronavirus

There has been a lot of media talk about the possible benefits of Vitamin D supplements in the fight against the Coronavirus, but is there any truth to it?

As we approach the warmer summer months, most of us would normally be spending more time outdoors or jetting off on summer holidays to places where the sun shines much more reliably than here in the UK. However, Coronavirus and the accompanying lockdown measures have meant that many of us are spending much less time outside enjoying the summer sun. Whilst this has an obvious impact on our mood, there may just be a negative effect on our physical health too.

Why Vitamin D?

When we spend time outdoors enjoying the sunshine, the UV light hits our exposed skin and in turn, our body produces vitamin D. Vitamin D aka the sunshine vitamin is a vital nutrient essential for many functions in our body including maintaining the health of our bones, teeth, muscles and immune system. Signs of deficiency include bone pain and general muscle weakness.

The length of time spent in the sun required to produce adequate vitamin D varies greatly from person to person dependent on factors such as skin type, intensity of the sun and how much skin is exposed. As a rule of thumb, being outside for 15-20 minutes during midday sun with the arms and legs exposed and no sunscreen two to three times a week should be enough to keep our vitamin D levels adequate. Those with dark skin tones may require slightly longer periods of sunlight to achieve adequate blood levels. However, each person should take into account how long their skin can be exposed without burning.

Prolonged exposure to sunlight does not lead to excess production as the body has mechanisms to destroy excess vitamin D and it can lead to skin cancer. In essence, you can’t overdose on vitamin D production through exposure to sunlight but you will increase your risk of sun damage and skin cancer. Always wear sunscreen for prolonged periods in the sun.

What does the NHS say?

The NHS has recently updated its guidance to encourage adults to consider taking 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day to keep our bones and muscle healthy. This is in light of the coronavirus lockdown meaning we may not be getting enough sunlight during the summer months if we spend most of our time indoors during the day.

The NHS already recommends vitamin D supplementation during the winter months when sunlight is scarcer, but have extended this recommendation to cover the coronavirus lockdown period. Vitamin D can be obtained from food such as oily fish and eggs. Fortified foods such as breakfast cereals and kinds of margarine are also good sources of vitamin D. However, it is important to note that the amounts of vitamin D in these foods are relatively low.

So who is most at risk?

Adults with darker skin tones, who spend more time indoors and usually wear clothes that cover most of the skin when outdoors are most at risk of deficiency. The NHS recommends a year-round 10 microgram vitamin D supplement for adults in these groups.

Children aged 1-10 years should take no more than 50 micrograms per day and infants aged under 12 months should take no more than 25 micrograms per day. Always read the label. Taking too many vitamin D supplements for extended periods could be harmful.

Are the rumours that vitamin D supplementation reduces the risk of complications with coronavirus true?

Vitamin D does play a role in our immune system. It is clearly essential to have adequate levels of all vitamins and minerals for a healthy functioning body – including a healthy immune system. Some dieticians and scientists suggest that vitamin D deficiency plays a part in the common cold and flu virus during the winter months. This thinking has been extended to the novel coronavirus but the evidence is not conclusive.

Taking a 10 microgram Vitamin D supplement daily is unlikely to cause any harm and the NHS recommends it is considered during the pandemic.

This article has been written by a qualified and registered pharmacist and should be used as a guide only. If you have any further questions please speak to your GP or contact us to speak to one of our pharmacists.

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