Perspective: Vitamin D deficiency and COVID-19 severity - plausibly linked by latitude, ethnicity, impacts on cytokines, ACE2 and thrombosis.
J Intern Med. 2020 Jul 2. Epub 2020 Jul 2. PMID: 32613681
J M Rhodes
BACKGROUND: SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection ranges from asymptomatic through to fatal COVID-19 characterized by a 'cytokine storm' and lung failure. Vitamin D deficiency has been postulated as a determinant of severity.
OBJECTIVES: To review the evidence relevant to vitamin D and COVID-19.
METHODS: Narrative review.
RESULTS: Regression modelling shows that more northerly countries in the Northern Hemisphere are currently (May 2020) showing relatively high COVID-19 mortality, with an estimated 4.4% increase in mortality for each 1 degree latitude north of 28 degrees North (P = 0.031) after adjustment for age of population. This supports a role for ultraviolet B acting via vitamin D synthesis. Factors associated with worse COVID-19 prognosis include old age, ethnicity, male sex, obesity, diabetes and hypertension and these also associate with deficiency of vitamin D or its response. Vitamin D deficiency is also linked to severity of childhood respiratory illness. Experimentally, vitamin D increases the ratio of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) to ACE, thus increasing angiotensin II hydrolysis and reducing subsequent inflammatory cytokine response to pathogens and lung injury.
CONCLUSIONS: Substantial evidence supports a link between vitamin D deficiency and COVID-19 severity but it is all indirect. Community-based placebo-controlled trials of vitamin D supplementation may be difficult. Further evidence could come from study of COVID-19 outcomes in large cohorts with information on prescribing data for vitamin D supplementation or assay of serum unbound 25(OH) vitamin D levels. Meanwhile, vitamin D supplementation should be strongly advised for people likely to be deficient.