A study by an Israeli university has confirmed what people have been saying throughout the pandemic. Researchers have found out that Vitamin D deficiency is a major factor in the rate of COVID-19 infection. The relatively large survey found that higher Vitamin D levels were associated with a lower risk of infection. It also seems to be linked to lighter symptoms for infected patients. However, not all experts are impressed by the study’s findings.
A group of scientists from Bar-Ilan University, a public research university in Tel Aviv, one of the highest-ranked in the region.
Dr. Eugene Merzon, who lead the study, summarized his findings for Israeli media:
“The main finding of our study was the significant association of low plasma vitamin D level with the likelihood of COVID-19 infection among patients who were tested for COVID-19, even after adjustment for age, gender, socio-economic status and chronic, mental and physical disorders.”
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In plain English, this means that COVID-negative individuals in the study had higher levels of Vitamin D than with people infected with the virus. Furthermore, the hospitalization rate for the disease rose with lower levels of Vitamin D. This was still the case when controlling for other variables, like whether the patient had another illness.
In other words, the lower their Vitamin D levels, the more likely they were to be sick. Also, the lower their Vitamin D, the sicker they become on average.
The survey was the most comprehensive study of Vitamin D levels across a population since the pandemic began. The sample size roughly 8,000, with 782 COVID-infected patients and the rest testing negative. This observational study was taken from people “out in the wild”, rather than participants in an experiment.
“The main strength of our study is its being large, real-world, and population-based,” said Dr. Tworowski and Dr. Gorohovski, two other members of the team.
The study has received criticism for its implication that Vitamin D can prevent and treat coronavirus infections. They claim that the study’s conclusions may fall into the classic traps of causation vs correlation.
It is true that in the study, people with higher Vitamin D levels were less likely to have contracted the virus, and when they did have it, it was less likely to be a severe case. However, these people could simply be healthier and therefore have healthy Vitamin D levels.
People can acquire Vitamin D from a balanced diet and plenty of sunshine, things that active, fit people tend to obtain a lot of. Rather than having the profound effect on COVID-19 that the study suggests, Vitamin D levels could simply be a marker of overall good health.
Ella Sklan, head of a molecular virology lab at Tel Aviv University, made this point. Sklan is has no connection to the study, but did review it. While she acknowledges Vitamin D’s role in a healthy immune system, even telling her mother to take it, she’s skeptical of the vitamin’s powerful effects on the coronavirus.
Speaking to the Times of Isreal, Ms. Sklan said, “People want to find something magic that will change everyone’s life now, but I wouldn’t rely on this thinking.”
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