Research from Trinity College Dublin has found that Vitamin D could be beneficial to older adults who are 'cocooning' during the current coronavirus pandemic.
Researchers from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) at Trinity have released a report in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The research highlights the key role of vitamin D in the body’s immune response to fight infection.
It also emphasises the importance of an increasing intake while staying at home or cocooning.
It finds that Vitamin D is a “potent immune modifying micronutrient” and that healthy levels “could benefit vulnerable adults – in particular those 70+ years and older who are ‘cocooning’ during the COVID-19 outbreak.”
Some 27% of Irish adults over 70 who are cocooning are estimated to be deficient in vitamin D.
The report finds that vitamin D plays a critical role in preventing respiratory infections, reducing antibiotic use and boosting the immune system response to infections.
Vitamin D is produced in the skin by exposing the body to just 10 to 15 minutes per day of sun.
In Ireland, vitamin D can only be made between late March and late September.
It cannot be made in winter, and the amount that people make in summer depends on how much sun they get.
But the report says that even in summer, getting a sufficient amount of vitamin D can pose a challenge due to cloud cover, rainy weather and a lack of sunshine.
But the researchers say: "The good news is that deficiency can be remedied by adequate intake of foods and by supplementation.
"Vitamin D is readily found in foods like eggs, liver and oily fish - such as salmon or mackerel - as well as fortified foods such as cereals and dairy products."
Some of TILDA’s key findings are:
- 47% of all adults over 85 are deficient in winter
- 27% of adults over 70 who are ‘cocooning’ are estimated to be deficient
- One in eight adults over 50 are deficient all year round
- Only 4% of men and 15% of women take a vitamin D supplement
It adds: "People who get little sun exposure or eat inadequate amounts of fortified foods are most at risk, especially those who are currently house-bound or confined to their homes.
"Other people who fall into the high-risk category are those who are obese or physically inactive, and those that have asthma or chronic lung disease."
"What is needed now is for people to increase their vitamin D intake, especially as supplementation is low across the nation, and particularly low in men."
Researchers recommend that adults over 50 should take supplements - not just in winter, but all year round if they do not get enough sun.
Vitamin D is available without prescription.
Professor Rose Anne Kenny is principal investigator with TILDA.
‘"We have evidence to support a role for vitamin D in the prevention of chest infections, particularly in older adults who have low levels.
"In one study vitamin D reduced the risk of chest infections to half in people who took supplements.
"Though we do not know specifically of the role of vitamin D in COVID infections, given its wider implications for improving immune responses and clear evidence for bone and muscle health, those cocooning and other at-risk cohorts should ensure they have an adequate intake of vitamin D.
"Cocooning is a necessity but will reduce physical activity.
"Muscle de-conditioning occurs rapidly in these circumstances and vitamin D will help to maintain muscle health and strength in the current crisis."