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Low Vitamin D Linked to Increased Risk of Developing Long-Term COVID

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People with low vitamin D after being hospitalized for COVID-19 are more likely to develop long-term COVID and experience negative cognitive effects, according to a new study. Tatiana Maksimova/Getty Images
  • People with low vitamin D after being hospitalized for COVID-19 are more likely to develop long-term COVID than people without vitamin D deficiency, a new study finds.
  • The controlled study was designed to remove as many unknown variables as possible, yielding what the authors consider a robust finding.
  • The researchers assessed the participants’ vitamin D levels upon release from hospital and again six months later, at which time they were also screened for symptoms of long-term COVID.
  • Symptoms associated with long-term COVID that were more likely to occur with a vitamin D deficiency included negative cognitive effects.

About 1 in 5 U.S. adults who get COVID-19 eventually develop long-term COVID, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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But long-term COVID affects 50% to 70% of people who have been hospitalized with COVID-19, according to a new study exploring a link between vitamin D deficiency and long-term COVID.

The researchers looked at the vitamin D levels of people with COVID-19 upon admission to the hospital and again six months after discharge. They observed that those with long-term COVID had lower vitamin D levels than those who didn’t have the condition.

Lead researcher Dr. Andrea Giustina, professor of endocrinology and metabolism at the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, in Milan, Italy, said Medical News Today:

The clinical area of ‚Äč‚Äčlong COVID in which we found a more relevant influence of low vitamin D was the neurocognitive one.

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The research results were recently published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

THE World Health Organization (WHO) defines long-term COVID as the continuation or occurrence of COVID-19-related symptoms within three months of an acute SARS-CoV-2 infection. The symptoms, which can last two months or more, have no other explanation.

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THE National Institutes on Aging (NIH) describes the following symptoms of long COVID:

  • feeling tired or tired
  • have trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • cough
  • feel joint pain and weakness
  • have hypertension
  • notice changes in smell, taste, or both
  • confusion, forgetfulness or brain fog

For the study, the researchers recruited 50 people diagnosed with long-term COVID and 50 people who did not develop the condition from an outpatient clinic associated with San Raffaele Hospital in Milan.

Individuals in the two groups were matched one-on-one, taking into account the severity of their COVID-19 disease, as well as age, gender, and any pre-existing chronic conditions.

Tight matching of people with and without long-term COVID has been a means of avoiding as many influencing factors as possible that might confound the study results. The wild variables in the vitamin D and long COVID studies are hard to explain.

At the six-month follow-up, the study authors found no other observable differences between their matched participants in their vitamin D levels, suggesting that vitamin D deficiency is a driver of long-lasting COVID symptoms.

The researchers also found that greater vitamin D deficiencies were more often associated with the neurocognitive symptoms synonymous with long-term COVID.

While vitamin D obviously plays a role in maintaining healthy bones, Dr. Giustina explained that the extra-skeletal effects of vitamin D are well known. Among them, positive effects on the immune system may be thought to play a role in this connection.

said Ray Marks, PhD, professor of health and behavioral studies at Columbia University MNT extension that it would be difficult to disprove the study findings since other research is consistent with them.

Dr. Marks noted that studies indicate vitamin D affects cognitive health, pain, obesity and bone health, all of which she said parallel long-term COVID and multiple chronic diseases.

Similarly, he added that older adults with lower vitamin D levels are a common finding, and that this can lead to other potentially long-lasting COVID symptoms such as cognitive impairment, frailty and weakness.

The molecular mechanisms of vitamin D alone imply that it is both a necessary cellular physiology and a gene mediator with enormous implications for the organism if insufficient. So, the results appear to be what one might expect, but this should be studied carefully.

Ray Marks, PhD

Dr. Marks also noted that other studies have determined that dark-skinned people are more likely to have vitamin D insufficiency.

For example, the Cooper Institute reports that vitamin D deficiency affects up to 76% of African Americans. Melanin in darker skin tones is thought to reduce vitamin D production.

Vitamin D is produced indirectly from sunlight. Ultraviolet B rays cause the skin to synthesize a form of cholesterol, 7-dehydrocholesterol, which the body uses to make vitamin D3 in the liver and then in the kidneys.

THE National Institutes of Health (NIH) says most Americans have adequate blood levels of vitamin D, even though 1 in 4 do not.

Dr Marks cited air pollution as one of the widespread factors that may be responsible for a decrease in vitamin D levels.

The only way to know if you’re getting enough vitamin D is to ask your doctor about a blood test for vitamin D.

The NIH recommends that adults ages 19 to 70 get an average of 600 IU of vitamin D per day. The elderly should receive a daily average of 800 IU.

If your blood test results indicate a vitamin D deficiency, your doctor will recommend the dosage of vitamin D supplementation that fits your needs.

When asked if vitamin D supplementation could help prevent long-term COVID symptoms, Dr. Giustina said: The role of vitamin D supplementation in long-term COVID prevention [is] not available yet.

Even so, Dr. Giustina recommends checking patients’ vitamin D levels as a precaution after hospitalization and treating any deficiencies if necessary.

I advocate safe daily levels of vitamin D for all, for both prevention and recovery from multiple chronic health conditions including obesity, a key analogue of COVID, said Dr. marks.

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