What to with the Covid-19 virus?
Obviously, I suppose like many of you, I keep scanning all the news for a possible cure for the Covid 19 flu.
This column does not constitute medical advice. Please check with your doctor. It seems there are some remedies that are already being recommended, with varying justification, to reduce the harm from the virus if you are caught with it. Some, like Hydroxychloroquine (taken together with zinc), which is normally used against malaria, have side-effects and should only be taken if prescribed; others, like Remdesivir, work (if at all) only during the early stages of disease; others, like the BCG virus against TB, have not yet been subjected to clinical trials (I hear they have started a trial now here in South Africa!!).
However, early studies showed an interesting result, which is missed by main stream media: apparently the darker your skin, the more your risk from the infection. The pandemic has struck most severely above 35°N (editorial in Aliment. Pharm. Therap., and Marik et al. 2020), just as flu tends to end as summer comes. When the skin is exposed to the sun, the body makes Vitamin D3 more efficiently than through diet: salmon, tuna, mackerel, milk, some cereals, mushrooms and eggs all contain Vitamin D.
Vitamin D, used by the body to absorb calcium and grow bones, increases the production of antiviral proteins and decreases cytokines, the immune molecules known to cause a storm of dangerous inflammation, particularly in Covid-19 patients.
A shortage is linked to rickets, cancers, heart disease and weight gain. It is efficacious against many diseases. Apparently, deficiency of Vitamin D3 is a long-proven risk factor for respiratory infections. The Covid-19 chiefly attacks the lungs. As Martineau et al. (BMJ 2017) showed in a meta-analysis of clinical trials involving more than 10,500 patients, rectifying Vitamin D3 deficiency reduces the risk of respiratory infection by 70%.
Evidence that Vitamin D supplementation could reduce risk of influenza and COVID-19 infections and deaths (Grant et al., Nutrients, April 2, 2020) found that “through several mechanisms, vitamin D can reduce risk of infections. Those mechanisms include inducing cathelicidins and defensins that can lower viral replication rates and reducing concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines that produce the inflammation that injures the lining of the lungs, leading to pneumonia, as well as increasing concentrations of anti-inflammatory cytokines.”
Here is another recent paper about this subject: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3571484
Vitamin D deficiency is common not only in dark-skinned people, whose pigment blocks sunlight, but also in obese people where the vitamin gets sequestered in fat cells; in those with Type 2 diabetes, where Vitamin D improves sensitivity to insulin; in the elderly, who avoid the sun and eat less; in city dwellers, who see less of the sun; and men, who have lower Vitamin D levels than women in the winter. All of these groups are more likely to suffer severely if infected with the Corona virus.
A recent study in Manchester found that average levels of vitamin D were 30% higher in summer than in winter and three times as high at all times in white people as in South Asians, who had less than a quarter of the 25 nanograms per milliliter that is regarded as sufficient.
Vitamin D3, in the form of gel tablets, is inexpensive and available without prescription. There are very few side-effects. A daily dose of 1000-4000 IE (=international units) (25-100 micrograms) will maintain a sufficient Vitamin D level in most patients. The lower dosage is suitable for whites; darker-skinned people may need higher doses.