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Vitamin D supplements should be part of Covid-19 policy, experts tell Oireachtas committee

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Screen grab taken from Oireachtas TV of Director of Human Nutrition and Dietetics at TU Dublin Dr Daniel McCartney speaking to the health committee. Photo: Oireachtas TV/PA Wire

Screen grab taken from Oireachtas TV of Director of Human Nutrition and Dietetics at TU Dublin Dr Daniel McCartney speaking to the health committee. Photo: Oireachtas TV/PA Wire

Screen grab taken from Oireachtas TV of Director of Human Nutrition and Dietetics at TU Dublin Dr Daniel McCartney speaking to the health committee. Photo: Oireachtas TV/PA Wire

A group of health experts has called on policymakers to recognise the role of vitamin D supplements in fighting illness from Covid-19.

The Covit-D Consortium told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health there is now an extensive body of international research showing the protective role of vitamin D against Covid-19, and supporting the need for population supplementation at higher doses than those currently recommended.

Dr Daniel McCartney, director of human nutrition and dietetics at TU Dublin, said that very large background studies pooling data from dozens of individual trials have described an approximately 10pc reduction in risk of respiratory infection among people taking vitamin D supplements.

They also show a more than 50pc reduction in risk among those with low vitamin D levels to begin with, especially if taking supplements daily.

“So there is robust evidence that vitamin D protects against respiratory infections in general. Since May 2020, geographic studies have shown that Covid-19 incidence and mortality are higher in countries far from the Equator and in countries with confirmed low vitamin D status.

“Furthermore, the population groups who are most likely to be vitamin D deficient are the same groups who have suffered the worst effects of Covid-19. These include older adults, those from BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] communities and those who are obese or who have pre-existing diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure.”

So far the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has supported the need for people over 65 in particular to take a vitamin D supplement but it said there was still not enough evidence to show it was protective against Covid-19.

Dr McCartney was joined by Professor Rose Anne Kenny, Professor James Walsh and Martin Healy of Trinity College, as well as Professor John Faul, a respiratory consultant.

“It is also clear that the pro-inflammatory blood profiles seen in vitamin D deficiency foretell the aggressive, over-whelming ‘cytokine storm’ that has claimed the lives of so many Covid-19 patients,” said Dr McCartney. “So before we had any data showing a direct relationship between low vitamin D levels and Covid-19 incidence and severity, we already had strong evidence to support the likelihood of such a relationship.

“From May 2020, data showing a direct relationship between low vitamin D status and increased risk of Sars-CoV-2 infection, severe disease and death emerged.

“These studies included work by Professor Faul in Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, which showed much higher ICU admission rates in patients with low vitamin D levels. Are these relationships causal? Well, there are now several studies published showing lower rates of ICU admission, ventilation and death in those given vitamin D during their admission.

“There is also an unpublished public health initiative in Andalucia, Spain, which has demonstrated a remarkable reduction in Covid-19 mortality since vitamin D supplementation of vulnerable older adults started there in mid-November. Yet despite the now dozens of positive studies including tens of thousands of participants, there has been no policy change in Ireland to advance what we believe to be an extremely low-risk, readily implemented, cheap and potentially highly effective intervention to mitigate this public health crisis.

“While some have called for randomised, placebo-controlled trials (RCT) to definitively prove the relationships between vitamin D supplementation and reduced risk, these are now ethically untenable, they are often imprecise and they are wholly impractical in the current crisis given the time required to execute them properly.

“They are also unnecessary; one need only think of the spectacular success of the workplace smoking ban to realise that not every effective public health intervention requires a placebo-controlled RCT behind it.”

Prof James Walsh from the School of Medicine in Trinity College said around seven in 10 people living in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow are low in the vitamin D in winter.

Online Editors


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