Being a strong proponent of taking vitamin D to prevent or at least reduce the severity of COVID-19 infections, I am frequently asked that question. My immediate and strong response is “Yes!” Now let me tell you why.
First of all, coronaviruses have a propensity to recur on a fairly frequent basis. For example, the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) pandemic occurred in 2002 and was controlled in 2003 before a vaccine could be developed. The MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) occurred in 2012 and also died out before a vaccine could be developed. There have been other novel coronaviruses occurring before 2002, going as far back as the 1918 flu pandemic that killed millions of people worldwide. So we can anticipate other coronaviruses in the years ahead; being prepared is very important. And whether COVID-19 will join influenza as an infectious disease for which annual vaccination is required isn’t yet known, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
In the future, I recommend continued use of vitamin D supplementation even after having the COVID-19 vaccination, for protection against infection. People who live in the Northern climates (like Sweden where they have mandatory requirements for foods to be fortified with vitamin D), people of color and all people during the winter months need supplementation to avoid a deficiency of vitamin D. The major natural source for vitamin D is the sun or UVB radiation. This benefit occurs easily in light skinned people yet is nearly blocked in people of color.
A JAMA article published online in September 2020 projected a 77% increased risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 if you have a vitamin D deficiency of <20 ng/mL. For protection against COVID-19 infections, data from our research nonprofit, The Cooper Institute, have proposed blood levels between 41-50 ng/mL and even higher to be of benefit.
Correcting vitamin D deficiency not only protects against COVID-19 but also a multitude of other medical problems. This is so important that nearly all of the cells in our wondrous bodies have vitamin D receptors except in the rare case where there is genetic deficiency.
Before I pursue this topic, let me explain what a vitamin is. A vitamin is any of various organic substances which are essential in minute quantities to the nutrition of most animals. Many, including vitamin D, are fat soluble and when stored in body fat are released very slowly into the blood. That is why overweight people are more likely to have lower vitamin D blood levels than people of normal weight. It has been shown that with the majority of people hospitalized with COVID-19 infections, the number one risk factor is age (over 65 particularly) and the second risk factor is obesity.
Whereas the role of vitamin D deficiency and COVID-19 was debated just six months ago, the literature is now overwhelmingly positive about the importance of vitamin D as well as magnesium and zinc in the prevention of COVID-19 infections.
I recommend we should all take a regular dose of vitamin D3 of at least 2,000 IU daily (50 mcg). We began evaluating vitamin D blood levels of all patients coming to Cooper Clinic in 2013 and have tested 45,827 healthy people. In 2013, the vitamin D levels averaged 32.8 ng/mL. After that date, our Cooper Clinic physicians began recommending a daily vitamin containing 2,000 IU of vitamin D. Every year since 2013 the blood levels have increased annually by about 2 ng/mL, and by 2020 the level was an average of almost 42 ng/mL in our patients. Follow-up testing of almost 3,000 of our patients for COVID-19 antigens or antibodies (antigens indicate having an acute infection, whereas antibodies indicate previous exposure or having immunization against the disease) was approximately half the national average for acute or chronic infections! The relationship may not all be due to vitamin D, but the progressive increase in blood levels of vitamin D in Cooper Clinic patients continues to play a very important role.
Now the other point as to why you should continue taking a vitamin D supplement after being vaccinated is that many other known medical conditions have been shown to be related to vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D supplementation reduces inflammation, reduces auto-immunity, reduces cancer cell growth, improves brain function (clearly related to Alzheimer’s and dementia), improves mood and sleep and reduces the risk of heart disease.
An exciting new field of research is looking at microbiomes, which are bacteria found in our intestines (also called gut microbiomes). According to a recent article in the Journal of Nature Metabolism, a continually changing microbiome is a sign of healthy aging. Studies have found that people 65 and older who are relatively lean and physically active have a higher abundance of certain microbes in their gut compared to seniors who are less fit and unhealthy. People whose gut microbiomes did not undergo much change as they grew older were in poorer health, with higher cholesterols and triglycerides and lower levels of vitamin D. Also, they were less active and could not walk as fast. They used more medication and were nearly twice as likely to die during the study period. This is just one more reason for continuing to take vitamin D to enable you to live a long life to the fullest.
Vitamin D is more of a hormone than it is a vitamin, and I consider it a “wonder drug.” Unless your cholesterol is too high, try to get as much as you can from dietary sources such as shellfish, egg yolks and meats. Remember to limit exposure to the sun in the summer months to no more than 20 minutes per day (or use sunscreen). Everyone should take at least 2,000 IU (50 mcg) of vitamin D daily. And it’s important to have your vitamin D level checked to see if you need additional supplementation.
Remember, your health is your responsibility—not the government’s, your physician’s or your insurance company’s. No drug can replicate the benefits of an active lifestyle!
Remember, too, what we are told in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” ©2021 Kenneth H. Cooper
The Scripture quotation is taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, ©1996, 2004, 2007 Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois.
Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, known worldwide as “the father of aerobics,” is the founder and chairman of Cooper Aerobics in Dallas and chairman emeritus of The Cooper Institute.