It has long been understood a healthy immune system provides a defensive barrier against invading pathogens, such as respiratory infections. It is a fact few would have been interested in revisiting until COVID-19 unleashed its terror on the world. The new illness, which is caused by a virus called coronavirus, poses a particular threat to people with weakened immune systems.
Scientists are scrambling to understand more about the virus, such as what can be done to minimise the harm it causes.
A key part of their strategy is to look at how other respiratory infections respond to immune-enhancing supplements and extrapolate these findings to COVID-19.
A new report published by the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) has advanced this effort.
The new Irish research has highlighted the key role vitamin D plays in preventing respiratory infections, which could have important implications for the fight against COVID-19.
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Best supplements: Vitamin D plays an essential role in preventing respiratory infections
TILDA is an ongoing study of people over the age of 50 in Ireland.
According to its report, Vitamin D Deficiency in Ireland – Implications for COVID 19, vitamin D plays an essential role in preventing respiratory infections, reducing antibiotic use, and boosting the immune system’s response to infections.
Commenting on their findings, the researchers said: “We have evidence to support a role for vitamin D in the prevention of chest infections, particularly in older adults who have low levels.
“In one study, vitamin D reduced the risk of chest infections to half in people who took supplements.”
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Normally, people get enough of this vitamin through direct exposure to sunlight from April to September but the lockdown, which could stretch on for months, makes a strong case for taking vitamin D supplements.
Rob Hobson, head of nutrition at Healthspan agrees: “I would recommend everyone take a vitamin D supplement during this lockdown period.
“The research highlights a really interesting and relevant point about vitamin D and respiratory infections which may prove useful in the fight against COVID-19.
“Also, this nutrient which we know is difficult to get from diet alone has other important roles to play such as protecting bone health which makes supplementing with it essential when our access to sunlight is restricted.”
Best supplements: Excess vitamin D can cause side effects such as a loss of appetite
As Hobson points out, the finding is particularly relevant for older people, who are more vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus.
The study revealed an estimated 27 percent of adults over the age of 70 years old are deficient in vitamin D.
How much vitamin D should you take every day?
“When choosing a vitamin D supplement look for one that contains at least 10mcg which is recommended by Public Health England,” says Hobson.
He added: “This supplement is now available in many forms and is available in tablets, gummies and sprays which may be easier for older people.”
You must not exceed the recommended daily limits of vitamin D, however.
Excess vitamin D can cause side effects due to disturbances in calcium metabolism such as headache, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation, palpitations and fatigue.
An upper safe intake level of 100mcg per day (4000 IU) is recommended by official EU guidelines.
Vitamin D is also found in a small number of foods, including oily fish, liver products, eggs, butter or fortified foods.