In the face of a second wave, we need to change the conversation around this pandemic.
If you listen to the news or read anything online about COVID 19, it’s all about how to avoid contracting the illness and how not to spread it to anyone else. This is helpful information, but it’s not the only thing we should know! Especially considering how rapidly those suggestions are changing as new data emerges. The latest? Asymptomatic carriers of COVID have a very low chance of spreading the virus, and surface transmission is also highly unlikely. That’s really great news for all of us!
So sure, follow the CDC guidelines, social distance, meet up with friends outdoors, wear a mask to the grocery store - we love that. Also consider and start conversations about the building blocks of your own health, your personal habits that support or inhibit your immune system, and your own risk factors that make you more vulnerable than the general public as businesses and schools reopen.
An interesting development in coronavirus research and prevention has revolved around Vitamin D. What exactly is Vitamin D you ask? Well some people call it the sunshine vitamin because it’s made in your skin during exposure to the sun’s UV rays. Certain people have lower levels of Vitamin D than others. This includes elderly individuals who are less efficient at its cutaneous synthesis in the skin, Black individuals who have a higher level of melanin which protects the skin from overexposure, but also limits the synthesis of Vitamin D, and obese individuals because this fat soluble Vitamin D molecule has more difficulty reaching the bloodstream.
Vitamin D is typically associated with the absorption of calcium and strong bones, but there is more and more information coming out regarding its role in the immune, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems, which all happen to be impacted by coronavirus. Let’s unpack a little bit about what this virus is, how it takes hold within the body, and how Vitamin D may be an essential tool to help the body fight back.
The virus is spread through droplet transmission. Coughing, sneezing, and spitting within close quarters helps the virus find its way into the air passages of someone else. Within the nose or throat, COVID is looking for a place to land and get to work, but that doesn’t just happen anywhere, it needs a certain receptor to set up shop. The receptor of choice? Angiotensin converting enzyme 2 or ACE2. If you experience high blood pressure or had a parent with it, you may be familiar with the term ACE inhibitors. These medications help relax blood vessels by preventing these cells from producing angiotensin, which narrows blood vessels and forces the heart to work harder. Long story short, ACE2 helps regulate blood pressure and just so happens to be the tissue vulnerable to coronavirus.
Once inside the cells, coronavirus multiplies over a period of time. Your immune system may fight it back here, but if it doesn’t subdue it, it will continue deep into the lungs. The lungs have a branching network of airways that end in these little air sacs, called alveoli, where gas exchange occurs. There, oxygen is diffused from the lungs to the bloodstream, and CO2 diffuses from the blood to the lungs to be exhaled. These alveolar sacs also house ACE2 receptors of their own and are the sites that become an all out war between the virus and your immune system. Your body triggers an attack, flooding the area with virus killing cells. The presence of so many foreign bodies in the alveolar sacs is enough to interfere with oxygen exchange, but the real issue is the aftermath of the fight. Our bodies are amazing, but they don’t always get it right. Sometimes too many immune cells are recruited in the fight against the virus and the inflammatory response becomes out of control. This is referred to as a cytokine storm. These storms annihilate the alveolar sacs, killing cells and flooding the area with fluid and pus. From this point it’s not uncommon for a patient to end up in critical condition on a respirator.
Strangely, acute respiratory distress isn’t the end of the story in many cases. Doctors are seeing other parts of the body experience severe inflammation and the virus travelling outside of the respiratory tract to attack ACE2 receptors in the cardiovascular and digestive system.
So what about Vitamin D? There is a strong correlation between those prone to low levels of Vitamin D and the communities most at risk of developing life threatening symptoms from COVID-19. In fact, 96% of all individuals who have died of COVID-19 have insufficient levels of Vitamin D. That number seems too high to be merely a coincidence, and if adequate nutrient levels to successfully regulate your body's systems is a step closer to preventing advanced coronavirus symptoms, it should be a bigger piece of the conversation than it is in this country.
Scientific evidence shows that Vitamin D is a major player in the immune response, specifically in prohibiting an intense autoimmune attack. With adequate levels of Vitamin D, those cytokine storms that flood the lungs in response to the virus could potentially be subdued to effectively target the virus without total inference of gas exchange between the lungs and the bloodstream.
Studies have also been conducted in long term care facilities with older populations and the effectiveness of high dose treatments of Vitamin D as a means of warding off respiratory infections. The group that received high dose treatments had a much lower rate of experiencing respiratory infections than those given a standard dose.
The available evidence is by no means conclusive data to state that Vitamin D is the key to eliminating COVID19. What we have available are bits of information to string together that seems to provide a lot of promise. Look into this information for yourself, talk to your doctor, take your vitamins, and stay well.