Treating coronavirus patients with high doses of vitamin D supplements could help keep them out of intensive care, a study has suggested.
Researchers gave high doses of calcifediol – a type of vitamin D supplement – to 50 patients hospitalised with Covid-19 in Spain.
They were given 100 micrograms of the supplement over the course of a week, with 55mg on the first day and then two booster doses of 27mg on days three and seven. The dose was slightly higher than the 70mg weekly limit recommended by the NHS.
Scientists compared the participants' health with 26 volunteers in a control group who were not given the tablets, which are normally prescribed to patients with thyroid or kidney problems.
Just one patient given calcifediol fell ill enough to be admitted to intensive care, whereas half of the participants in the control group were taken to ICU and two died.
There were no deaths among volunteers receiving the vitamin and all 50 patients were eventually discharged by the end of the study.
Experts now believe Covid-19 causes a catastrophic build-up of a chemical called bradykinin, which makes blood vessels leaky and drives up the risk of inflammation.
Calcifediol is one of the few hormones which regulates the bradykinin and it can also prevent the immune system from going into overdrive.
Researchers have been divided over whether a vitamin D deficiency, which is vital to the immune system, can raise the risk of dying of Covid-19. Some scientists suggested that it may be one of the reasons black people face a higher risk of dying from the illness, because they do not produce as much of the vitamin naturally.
Taking too much vitamin D can cause bone and organ damage over time, however, and scientists discouraged people from trying to self-medicate.
Calcifediol – a type of vitamin D supplementation – appeared to slash the risk of a Covid-19 patient needing intensive care when it was given in huge doses, a study in Spain found (stock image of the drug)
For the study, researchers from the University of Cordoba in Spain and research university KU Leuven in Belgium monitored 76 hospital patients with Covid-19.
Fifty of the patients were randomly assigned to have calcifediol tablets, along with normal care.
Twenty-six volunteers were put in a control group who only received standard care, to compare the treatment to.
Because the study was conducted several months ago, the standard care for coronavirus in Spain was hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin. These two drugs have since been proven ineffective at treating the virus.
Calcifediol was given in high doses at 50 micrograms on the first day then 26 micrograms on the third and seventh day. These patients were then given the drug at this dose weekly until they were discharged.
The NHS recommends people do not take more than 70 micrograms of vitamin D a week, because it warns it can cause bone and organ damage over time.
BAME people may face a higher risk of dying from the coronavirus because they are more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency, scientists claim.
The pandemic is seeing higher rates of people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds dying if they catch the coronavirus.
The reasons are still unknown and will likely be numerous and complicated. But some experts think a lack of vitamin D may play a role.
People with darker skin need to spend more time in sunlight in order to get the same amount of vitamin D as a person with lighter skin.
For this reason, the NHS suggests people with an African, African-Caribbean or south Asian background could benefit from take a daily supplement throughout the year.
Vitamin D may have a protective effect against severe coronavirus by regulating the immune system, and deficiencies of it have been linked to other respiratory viruses.
However, the largest study to investigate the link