Vitamin D plays a critical role in preventing respiratory infections, reducing antibiotic use, and boosting the immune system response to infections, according to a new report.
Researchers from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin say it could play a huge role in the response to the global Covid-19 pandemic.
The report found that 1 in 8 Irish adults under 50 are deficient in this vitamin. Vitamin D is produced in the skin by exposing the body to just 10-15 minutes per day of sun. In Ireland, Vitamin D can only be made between late March and late September.
A deficiency can be remedied by consuming foods and supplements that are rich in Vitamin D, such as eggs, liver, oily fish, cereals and dairy products.
The Irish population
TILDA researchers have found that there is an insufficient daily intake of the vitamin across Ireland.
Some of TILDA’s key findings are:
- 47% of all adults over 85 are deficient in winter;
- 27% of adults over 70 who are ‘cocooning’ are estimated to be deficient;
- 1 in 8 adults over 50 are deficient all year round;
- Only 4% of men and 15% of women take a Vitamin D supplement.
Who is at risk?
- People who get limited sunlight;
- People who eat inadequate amounts of fortified foods;
- Those that are obese or physically inactive;
- Those that have asthma or chronic lung disease.
Vitamin D can be purchased over the counter without a prescription. TILDA researchers recommend that adults over 50 should take supplements – not just in winter, but all year round if they don’t get enough sun. Those who are ‘cocooning’ at present should also take supplements.
Ensure adequate intake of Vitamin D
Professor Rose Anne Kenny, Principal Investigator of TILDA, 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.”
“Though we do not know specifically of the role of Vitamin D in Covid infections, given its wider implications for improving immune responses and clear evidence for bone and muscle health, those cocooning and other at-risk cohorts should ensure they have an adequate intake of Vitamin D.”
“Cocooning is a necessity but will reduce physical activity. Muscle deconditioning occurs rapidly in these circumstances and Vitamin D will help to maintain muscle health and strength in the current crisis.”
Dr Eamon Laird, Research Fellow in Medical Gerontology and co-author of the report, said: “These findings show our older adults have high levels of vitamin D deficiency which could have a significant negative impact on their immune response to infection. There is an even larger risk now of deficiency with those cocooning or confined indoors.”
“However, vitamin D deficiency is not inevitable – eating foods such as oily fish, eggs, vitamin D fortified cereals or dairy products and a daily 400 IU (10ug) vitamin D supplement can help avoid deficiency.”
“However, Ireland needs a formal vitamin D food policy/recommendation, which we are still lacking – for instance Finland has such a policy and has virtually eliminated deficiency in their population,” he concluded.