Posted on 14 September 2020
A small pilot study suggests that vitamin D might be beneficial in the treatment of COVID-19.
COVID-19 patients can rapidly develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), in which widespread inflammation damages the lungs and necessitates admission to an intensive care unit (ICU). Vitamin D may be beneficial in treating or preventing ARDS, as it appears to reduce inflammation and protect the cells lining the inside of the lungs. The pressing question is therefore: should vitamin D be given to hospitalised Covid patients?
This small Spanish study of 76 patients aimed to answer that question. Upon admission to Reina Sofia University Hospital with COVID-19, 50 patients were randomly assigned to receive calcifediol in addition to their treatment for Covid. Calcifediol is converted into the active form of vitamin D by the kidneys.
The results are encouraging: among 26 patients not treated with calcifediol, thirteen required ICU admission (50%), while out of 50 patients treated with calcifediol only 1 required admission to the ICU.
Does this mean that we should all start taking vitamin D to protect ourselves against Covid? Well, not so fast. Firstly, this study doesn’t indicate that vitamin D protects against Covid – only that you are less likely to end up in the ICU if you are hospitalised with Covid and receive calcifediol in addition to other treatment. The study was also relatively small, although a larger trial is underway.
Furthermore, it’s hard to generalise the results of this trial given that adults living in the area surrounding the hospital are relatively vitamin D deficient in winter and spring, though vitamin D deficiency is widespread in many other regions including in the USA and Europe. Similar benefits might not extend to those who are not vitamin D deficient. Additionally, the oldest participants were generally in their early 60s, which is still in the lower quartile in terms of mortality risk from Covid.
Finally, it should be noted that other medical conditions weren’t evenly distributed across the two groups. Those not treated with Calcifediol had a higher proportion of people with high blood pressure and diabetes, for example. This could have skewed the results, though the authors did attempt to use statistics to control for this. This is a weakness of the small study size. The results of larger studies are eagerly awaited, as the effects shown in this trial would have important clinical implications.
“Effect of calcifediol treatment and best available therapy versus best available therapy on intensive care unit admission and mortality among patients hospitalized for COVID-19: A pilot randomized clinical study”: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsbmb.2020.105751
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