Vitamin D has been in the news a lot recently because of its possible relationship with COVID-19. Are you curious if you should take it? Below, we’ve written a guide on vitamin D, including signs you may be deficient, options for fixing that deficiency, and some other helpful information, such as what drugs interact with vitamin D and the current thoughts on the effect of vitamin D on COVID-19.
What is vitamin D?
Called the Sunshine Vitamin, vitamin D plays a variety of important roles in your body. It promotes calcium absorption and healthy calcium levels, both of which are necessary for bone growth and strength. It also plays an important role in reducing inflammation, promoting cell growth, supporting neuromuscular function, and strengthening your immune system.
Although it is an essential vitamin for good health, vitamin D deficiency is very common. Approximately 41.6% of adults in the U.S. are considered deficient. It’s often advised to take vitamin D in the winter months, as it can boost your immunity to prevent the cold and flu. And in the peak of COVID-19, an immunity boost seems like it could be helpful to many.
Signs you might be deficient in vitamin D
Vitamin D can be absorbed from the sun through your skin. In theory, the sun could provide adequate vitamin D to prevent deficiency. However, this doesn’t always end up being the case due to differences in seasons, location, smog, pollution, clothing, and sunscreen. Many people also purposefully limit sun exposure (and for good reason) because of the risk of skin cancer.. This is also why vitamin D deficiency is more common in colder regions or during colder seasons with less sun.
So, how do you know if you are one of the millions who are deficient in vitamin D? There are some key signs and symptoms you can look out for:
- Getting sick often
- Feeling tired
- Bone and back pain
- Slower wound healing
- Bone loss
- Hair loss
- Muscle pain
Deficiency can contribute to serious health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, infections, immune system disorders, increased risk of falling, some types of cancer, and multiple sclerosis.
If you do suspect you are deficient, make sure to consult your doctor and/or pharmacist. A blood test can effectively measure your vitamin D levels.
What to do if you are deficient in vitamin D
If you find out that you are indeed deficient in vitamin D, don’t worry! With the right supplement, you can restore your levels to the proper amount.
As pharmacists, our recommended dosages of vitamin D supplements are 50,000 IU and 5,000 IU. Vitamin D 50,000 IU is a convenient high dose capsule that only needs to be taken once a week. It provides an immediate boost and is best for anyone who has trouble reaching and maintaining peak vitamin D levels. Generally, this capsule is not recommended for long-term daily use. By contrast, Vitamin D 5,000 IU is a smaller dose that is taken more frequently (typically daily). Some of it comes down to personal preference in terms of how often you want to take the supplement.
When choosing a vitamin D supplement, look for one that is specifically formulated with vitamin D3. To make vitamin D, your body converts D2 into D3. Honeybee Health’s vitamin D3 supplements contain D3 because studies show it maintains active vitamin D levels for longer.
The relationship between prescription drugs and vitamin D
Certain prescription medications, such as anti-seizure medications, cholesterol medications, oral corticosteroids, and weight loss medications, have been shown to contribute to vitamin D deficiency. If you take any of these medications, it may be especially important for you to take a vitamin D supplement. Some examples include:
- Calcium Channel Blockers: amlodipine (Norvasc), felodipine (Plendil), nifedipine (Procardia, Adalat), nimodipine (Nimotop), and nisoldipine (Sular)
- H2 inhibitors: Famotidine (Pepcid) and cimetidine (Tagamet)
- Estrogens and Hormones: Premarin, Prempro, oral contraceptives, Estrace, estradiol, Estriol, and Estrone
- Corticosteroids: Betamethasone (Celestone), hydrocortisone (Cortef), and prednisone (Rayos)
Some medications can also negatively interact with vitamin D, including steroid medications, orlistat, cholestyramine, phenytoin, and anti-tuberculosis drugs. That’s why it’s always important to check with your doctor and/or pharmacist before starting or stopping any supplement.
What’s the relationship between vitamin D and COVID-19?
In some studies, low vitamin D levels have been associated with an increase in inflammation, risk of pneumonia, and risk of viral upper respiratory tract infections, which may contribute to your risk of COVID-19 (including how severe a possible infection might become). However, much more research is needed to fully establish a relationship between vitamin D and COVID-19 prevention.
That being said, it might not hurt to take vitamin D anyway as we transition into colder months with limited sun exposure. As always, please first consult your doctor and/or pharmacist to make sure it is safe for you to take.