Vitamin D – Its’ Role in the Immune System and Minority Populations

When the leaves start turning colors in the Midwest, I naturally start re-educating my patients on the importance of vitamin D, especially this year. This essential vitamin does wonders by helping our bodies fight off viruses, colds and upper respiratory tract infections which become more prevalent as the weather dips, and the immune system naturally weakens.

This year (2020) brought a new awareness to scientists, researchers and people wanting to stay healthy due to concerns with the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). Many studies have been conducted recently, showing that higher vitamin D levels lead to increased immunity, as well as better outcomes if someone were to have a virus.

Vitamin D Research

An observational analysis was completed March through June, 2020 by the researchers at Boston University.

The study involved over 190,000 US patients from all 50 states who were positively diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 and had low levels of vitamin D within the prior 12 months.  The results showed when a person had vitamin D levels below 20 ng/mL, they had a 54 percent higher SARS-CoV-2 positivity rate compared to those who tested with a level of 30-34 ng/mL.  The study also showed that the risk of SARS-CoV-2 continued to decline until levels reached 55 ng/mL.

In my practice, I continuously educate about the benefits of vitamin D and how important it is on immune health. In 2005-2006, a national health examination was conducted to study vitamin D levels throughout the country. The research showed that 41.6% of Americans were vitamin D deficient.

I have tested most of my patient’s vitamin D levels over the past 4 years. These patients vary with age, health and other socioeconomic markers. The average vitamin D level among these patients was 28 ng/mL. The standard reference range recommends vitamin D levels between 30-100ng/ml. In integrative medicine, we prefer to see patients’ levels around 60-80ng/ml.

Disproportionate Effects on Black Americans + Minority Populations

COVID-19 outcome disparities are rapidly becoming apparent when comparing mortality rates and ethnicity. An analysis of US Covid-19 deaths by race shows that black Americans are dying at twice the rate of white Americans. 

Undoubtably there are many factors that can be attributed to this high mortality rate; however, we shouldn’t discount the role of vitamin D.  Its positive effect on the immune system shouldn’t be ignored especially knowing that minority populations are often the most vitamin D deficient.  The NIH reports vitamin D deficiency as being one plausible explanation for a higher COVID-19 burden in these groups. 

The 2005-2006 study also revealed that the highest rate of vitamin D deficiency were in minority populations with Black Americans (82.1% deficient) followed by Hispanic populations (69.2%).

Genetic makeup has a lot to do with this at no fault to anyone. Black people tend to have higher amounts of melanin in their skin than those with lighter skin tones. Melanin naturally provides some protection from the sun, but in doing so, also reduces the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D from sunlight naturally.

An editorial by International Journal of Obesity, observed associations between ethnicity, obesity, and worse COVID-19 outcomes associated with lower vitamin D levels.  These researchers stated that vitamin D supplementation in randomized, placebo-controlled studies demonstrated a reduced risk for acute respiratory tract infection

Out of all the factors contributing to increased COVID-19 deaths in minority communities (poor health status, obesity, hypertension, etc.), the one factor that is easily improved is vitamin D levels. 

Vitamin D and Immune System Benefits

Vitamin D can have an anti-inflammatory effect on the immune system throughout the body, therefore reducing the risk of a cytokine storm, which seems to play a significant role in the SARS-CoV-2 death rates.

Vitamin D receptor (VDR) pathways can also provide beneficial effects in acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), help stimulate cellular repair, while helping decrease risk of hypercoagulability (blood clotting) and much more.

The good news is that vitamin D is an affordable, easy and effective solution to keep our immune systems on high alert going into the Fall/Winter seasons. People from all areas of the world; no matter how much sun they are exposed to, need to be aware of their levels and treat sufficiently.

If you live in the Midwest, you can assume you are below adequate levels.

If you are able to get tested, it’s always a good idea to know where your levels are at so you can supplement accordingly. At Vive IV Therapy, we regularly test vitamin D levels and provide vitamin D injections and supplements to our customers.

I hope you and your family stay healthy as we head into the colder months.

In Health,

Stephanie, ARNP, FNP-C

References:

Forrest KYZ, Studhdreher WL. Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in U.S. adults. Nutrition Research January 2011(1): 48-54.

Kaufman HW, Niles JK, et al. SARS-CoV-2 positivity rates associated with circulating hydroxyvitamin D levels PLOS ONE Sept. 17, 2020.

Nair, R., & Maseeh, A. Vitamin D: The “sunshine” vitaminJournal of pharmacology & pharmacotherapeutics3(2), 118–126. April 3, 2012.

Tangpricha V. What is the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in the US? Medscape Sept. 21, 2020.