We all know how devastating COVID-19 can be, and the long-term effects it can have on those who have been hospitalized with the virus. Recently, a new study has found that people with low levels of vitamin D after being hospitalized for COVID-19 are more likely to develop long COVID compared to people without a vitamin D deficiency.
The study was designed to remove as many unknown variables as possible, producing what the authors consider a robust finding. Researchers assessed vitamin D levels in participants upon release from the hospital and again six months later, at which time they were also screened for symptoms of long COVID. The symptoms associated with long COVID that were most likely to occur with a vitamin D deficiency included negative cognitive effects. These findings were recently published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
Understanding Long COVID
Long COVID is a term used to describe the continuation or appearance of COVID-19-related symptoms within three months of an acute SARS-CoV-2 infection. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), these symptoms may last for two months or longer and have no other explanation. The National Institutes on Aging (NIH) list several symptoms of long COVID, including feeling tired or fatigued, difficulty breathing, coughing, joint pain and weakness, hypertension, changes to smell or taste, and confusion or brain fog. It is important to note that these symptoms can vary from person to person.
Vitamin D Deficiency Linked to Long COVID Symptoms
We conducted a study involving 50 individuals diagnosed with long COVID and 50 individuals without the condition. We matched the participants one to one, taking into account the severity of their COVID-19 illness, age, sex, and any preexisting chronic conditions. This matching was done to avoid as many influencing factors as possible that might confuse the study’s findings.
At the six-month follow-up, we found no other observable differences between the two groups except for their vitamin D levels. Individuals with low vitamin D levels were more likely to develop long COVID symptoms.
Furthermore, we found that greater vitamin D deficiencies were most often associated with the neurocognitive symptoms synonymous with long COVID. Therefore, our study suggests that vitamin D deficiency could be a driver of long COVID symptoms, particularly neurocognitive symptoms.
It is important to note that uncontrolled variables in studies of vitamin D and long COVID are challenging to account for. Our study provides preliminary evidence and highlights the need for further research in this area.
The Role of Vitamin D in Long COVID
We know that vitamin D plays a vital role in maintaining healthy bones, but it also has extra-skeletal effects, such as positive effects on the immune system. These effects could play a role in the connection between vitamin D and long COVID. Other research is consistent with this, making it hard to refute the findings.
Vitamin D has been shown to affect cognitive health, pain, obesity, and bone health, all of which parallel long COVID and multiple chronic diseases. Older adults with lower vitamin D levels are more likely to experience other potentially long COVID symptoms such as cognitive disturbances, frailty, and weakness.
It is important to note that vitamin D is a necessary cell physiology and gene mediator with enormous organism implications if insufficient. Therefore, it is not surprising that low levels of vitamin D are associated with long COVID. However, this would need to be carefully studied to fully understand the implications.
Studies have also established that people with dark skin are more likely to have vitamin D insufficiency. As many as 76% of African Americans are affected by vitamin D deficiency due to melanin in darker skin tones, which is believed to reduce the production of vitamin D.
Overall, the role of vitamin D in long COVID is an area of ongoing research. However, the evidence suggests that maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D may be beneficial in preventing and treating long COVID and other chronic diseases.
Vitamin D and Long COVID
We all know that vitamin D is essential for bone health, but did you know it may also play a role in preventing long COVID symptoms? Vitamin D is indirectly produced by sunlight, and most Americans have adequate blood levels of vitamin D, although 1 in 4 do not. Air pollution is among the widespread factors that may be responsible for a decrease in vitamin D levels.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that adults ages 19 to 70 receive an average of 600 IU of vitamin D daily, while older adults should receive a daily average of 800 IU. The only way to know if you’re getting enough vitamin D is to have your doctor prescribe a vitamin D blood test. If your blood test results indicate a vitamin D deficiency, your doctor will recommend the dosage of vitamin D supplementation that suits your needs.
While the role of vitamin D supplementation in the prevention of long COVID is not yet available, it is recommended to check patients’ vitamin D levels as a precaution post-hospitalization and treat any deficiency as necessary. Dr. Marks said, “I am in favor of daily safe levels of vitamin D for all, for both prevention and recovery of multiple chronic health conditions including obesity, a key COVID analog.”
In conclusion, vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of developing long COVID symptoms. Therefore, it is important to maintain adequate blood levels of vitamin D through regular sunlight exposure and/or vitamin D supplementation.