May 17, 2020

Can Vitamin D Prevent COVID-19?

Get the whole story before you rush to the drugstore

Vitamin D capsules backlighted by sunlight

Vitamin D is a dynamo when it comes to health benefits. We need it for healthy bones of course, and it’s necessary for many of our body’s functions. But can it go toe-to-toe with the coronavirus (COVID-19)? The internet seems to think so. But before you start sunbathing and taking milk baths, learn why you should be careful when it comes to this latest development.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Why is everyone talking about vitamin D all of a sudden?

If you’ve been paying attention to the headlines lately, you’ve probably seen that vitamin D deficiency has been linked to COVID-19 infections and fatalities. New research has suggested that the rate of infection and deaths appeared to be much higher in areas where people had lower amounts of vitamin D in their systems. This finding was especially significant in Europe.

Researchers discovered that southern European countries like Italy and Spain had more COVID-19-related cases and deaths than northern European countries. How does vitamin D absorption factor in when it comes to these two regions?

People in northern Europe tend to consume more sources of vitamin D, like supplements and cod liver oil. In southern Europe, many people have darker complexions. When you have more melanin or pigmentation in your skin, it’s much harder for the body to convert sunshine into vitamin D. And as we know, sun exposure is one way that we can get it.

Some of the studies floating around right now are still being reviewed, so don’t buy all the vitamin D supplements you can find and please don’t start guzzling cod liver oil. Keep reading to find out why it’s important to weigh all of the evidence and talk to your doctor before doing anything.

“Miracle cure” or too soon to tell?

While the latest findings might seem like an open-and-shut case, it’s not that simple according to family medicine doctor Donald Ford, MD.

Advertisement

“What these recent studies have shown was an association, and not necessarily any kind of causative link. What does that mean? It means these findings could be important or they could be something else entirely,” explains Ford.

While news outlets or people close to you might suggest that you increase your vitamin D intake to protect yourself from COVID-19, Dr. Ford recommends talking to your doctor before making the call since there are still many unknowns.

“Some of the articles out there have drawn the conclusion that it’s safe and effective to take vitamin D to prevent COVID-19. That’s an inappropriate conclusion at this time because all we can say is that in countries where people had lower levels of vitamin D, there were more cases of COVID-19. But this doesn’t take into account the million other factors that could be contributing to that. My caution as a physician is before anyone does anything, they should talk to their doctor. Now, there may be something that’s actually worth exploring with this research. But based on the knowledge that we have at this time, you can’t draw the conclusion that taking vitamin D is going to help prevent COVID-19.”

With all of the coronavirus’ mysteries and uncertainties, we’ve seen people cling to homemade concoctions, dangerous chemicals or anything that appears to offer a glimmer of hope. Dr. Ford believes it’s good to extend caution and not jump on things as soon as they hit our inboxes and newsfeeds. Why? Because the latest media sensation could cause more harm than good.

“With vitamin D, maybe there is some truth to it but we just don’t have enough information right now. Something similar happened recently with a medicine called hydroxychloroquine. An early study showed that there might be some benefits to using it to treat the coronavirus. But when more studies were done, we found out that this drug offered little benefits and could potentially harm people. This is why I always tell patients to not jump to conclusions and let the scientists figure these things out.”

Advertisement

You are not invincible

Many people take vitamin D supplements and doctors may recommend them for certain medical conditions. So what’s the problem? Dr. Ford points out that the danger is in the suggestion that vitamin D can make people immune to COVID-19.

“The biggest harm that I see with something like this is that people will take vitamin D and then think they’re immune to COVID-19. With these studies, that wasn’t even close to being shown. To stay safe, people should still maintain all of the social distancing protocols — wearing masks, washing their hands and everything else that we’ve been doing since this all started.”

Related Articles

crowd of people at music concert
February 5, 2024
What Constitutes a ‘Superspreader Event’?

Any large social gathering — from a family birthday party to an indoor music concert — has the potential to spread serious infection

Male with eyes closed sitting hunched over, pinching area between their eyes
January 29, 2024
Headache and Fatigue: 11 Possible Causes That Can Trigger Both

Many factors, like dehydration, a cold or even your medication, can result in these common symptoms

Female wrapped in blanket laying on sofa looking fatigued or unwell
January 23, 2024
How To Manage COVID Fatigue and Regain Your Energy

It’s important to connect with a healthcare provider, get quality sleep and balance your activities with your energy levels

Sick person on couch using tissue on nose with medication bottles on coffee table
January 19, 2024
How To Know if It’s COVID-19, a Cold or Allergies

Symptoms can overlap and be hard to distinguish, but there are some telltale differences

Adult hand uses a dropper to deliver a liquid to newborn by mouth
January 18, 2024
Do Infants Need Vitamin D Drops?

A daily dose of vitamin D can help babies build strong bones, as well as boost their brain development

Close-up of hands in lab gloves sorting vials and covid-19 blood sample
January 17, 2024
Everything You Need To Know About COVID-19 Variants

Just like the flu, COVID-19 will continue to evolve every year

Adult female on couch, coughing into crook of arm, holding thermometer
January 15, 2024
Prepping for Flurona: When COVID-19 and the Flu Strike at the Same Time

It’s best to treat flu-like symptoms as if you have COVID-19

positive COVID test with COVID virus molecules floating around it
December 20, 2023
How Long Does COVID-19 Last if You’re Vaccinated?

The duration varies, but symptoms can linger for a few days up to a couple weeks or more

Trending Topics

close up of keto gummies
Do Keto Gummies Work for Weight Loss? Are They Safe?

Research is inconclusive whether or not these supplements are helpful

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

Older person postioned sideways showing dowager hump.
Dowager’s Hump: What It Is and How To Get Rid of It

The hump at the base of your neck may be caused by osteoporosis or poor posture

Ad