Last Updated: July 17, 2020
- There are insufficient data to recommend either for or against the use of vitamin D for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19.
Vitamin D is critical for bone and mineral metabolism. Because the vitamin D receptor is expressed on immune cells such as B cells, T cells, and antigen-presenting cells, and because these cells can synthesize the active vitamin D metabolite, vitamin D also has the potential to modulate innate and adaptive immune responses.1
Vitamin D deficiency (defined as a serum concentration of 25-hydroxyvitamin D ≤20 ng/mL) is common in the United States, particularly among persons of Hispanic ethnicity and Black race. These groups are overrepresented among cases of COVID-19 in the United States.2 Vitamin D deficiency is also more common in older patients and patients with obesity and hypertension; these factors have been associated with worse outcomes in patients with COVID-19. In observational studies, low vitamin D levels have been associated with an increased risk of community-acquired pneumonia in older adults3 and children.4
Vitamin D supplements may increase the levels of T regulatory cells in healthy individuals and patients with autoimmune diseases; vitamin D supplements may also increase T regulatory cell activity.5 In a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials, vitamin D supplementation was shown to protect against acute respiratory tract infection.6 However, in two randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials, administering high doses of vitamin D to critically ill patients with vitamin D deficiency (but not COVID-19) did not reduce the length of the hospital stay or the mortality rate when compared to placebo.7,8 High levels of vitamin D may cause hypercalcemia and nephrocalcinosis.9
Vitamin D and COVID-19
The role of vitamin D supplementation in the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 is not known. The rationale for using vitamin D is based largely on immunomodulatory effects that could potentially protect against COVID-19 infection or decrease the severity of illness. Ongoing observational studies are evaluating the role of vitamin D in preventing and treating COVID-19.
Some investigational trials on the use of vitamin D in people with COVID-19 are being planned or are already accruing participants. These trials will administer vitamin D alone or in combination with other agents to participants with and without vitamin D deficiency. The latest information on these clinical trials can be found on ClinicalTrials.gov.
- Aranow C. Vitamin D and the immune system. J Investig Med. 2011;59(6):881-886. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21527855.
- Forrest KY, Stuhldreher WL. Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults. Nutr Res. 2011;31(1):48-54. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21310306.
- Lu D, Zhang J, Ma C, et al. Link between community-acquired pneumonia and vitamin D levels in older patients. Z Gerontol Geriatr. 2018;51(4):435-439. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28477055.
- Science M, Maguire JL, Russell ML, Smieja M, Walter SD, Loeb M. Low serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D level and risk of upper respiratory tract infection in children and adolescents. Clin Infect Dis. 2013;57(3):392-397. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23677871.
- Fisher SA, Rahimzadeh M, Brierley C, et al. The role of vitamin D in increasing circulating T regulatory cell numbers and modulating T regulatory cell phenotypes in patients with inflammatory disease or in healthy volunteers: a systematic review. PLoS One. 2019;14(9):e0222313. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31550254.
- Martineau AR, Jolliffe DA, Hooper RL, et al. Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data. BMJ. 2017;356:i6583. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28202713.
- Amrein K, Schnedl C, Holl A, et al. Effect of high-dose vitamin D3 on hospital length of stay in critically ill patients with vitamin D deficiency: the VITdAL-ICU randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2014;312(15):1520-1530. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25268295.
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute PCTN, Ginde AA, et al. Early high-dose vitamin D3 for critically ill, vitamin D-deficient patients. N Engl J Med. 2019;381(26):2529-2540. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31826336.
- Ross AC, Taylor CL, Yaktine AL, Del Valle HB, eds. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2011. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56070/.