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by Bennett Davis
Two studies have found that in countries where people have low levels of vitamin D in their bodies, COVID virus infections tend to be more severe and more people die.
The studies examined data from 20 countries.
In one investigation, researchers at Northwestern University looked at details of COVID cases in ten countries that had severe epidemics, including China, Italy, and the U.S. They also checked available data about the populations’ general levels of vitamin D before the pandemic arrived.
The study found a significant correlation between vitamin D deficiency and a COVID complication called a “cytokine storm.”
Cytokines are proteins cells use to send out signals, which play a key role in the immune system. Some cytokines tamp down inflammation, which has been identified as a key source of many illnesses; other cytokines fan inflammation and chronic pain.
In a cytokine storm, cells react sharply and strongly to an invasion by a virus or other foreigner and quickly flood the body with cytokines. That gives the body too many signals to process at once, many of them contradicting each other. The effects can range from swelling and nausea to multiple organ failure.
After the 2009 swine flu epidemic, one study found that 81 percent of people who died had markers in their bodies of a cytokine storm.
One feature of the COVID virus is that, when it enters a cell, it replicates itself so quickly the cell can’t keep up. The cell sends out an ever-growing number of cytokines as the virus population inside it climbs. Some of the cytokines finally cause the cell to kill itself, a last-ditch, sacrificial attempt to shut down the danger posed to other cells.
When the COVID virus settles in the lungs, cells there flood the body with cytokines, disrupting organ systems’ normal behavior. Then the lung cells die, releasing their debris as the tissues fall apart. The debris fills the lungs’ air sacs with fluid, the way pneumonia does, and blocks air from being taken into the bloodstream. Deprived of oxygen, other organs begin to fail. This kind of congestion has killed a significant number of COVID patients.
The Northwestern study found the risk of severe COVID infection among patients with drastic vitamin D deficiency was 17.3 percent, while patients with adequate vitamin D levels was 14.6 percent, which works out to a 15.6-percent advantage for those who have enough vitamin D.
Vitamin D is known to protect against lung infections.
The researchers theorize that elderly people have succumbed to the virus in larger numbers because that group is more prone to vitamin D deficiencies. They also suggest children seem to be largely immune to cytokine storms because their immune systems are stronger and less likely to overreact to infections.
In the second study, U.K. scientists found similar results in examining data from 20 countries.
They saw that the populations of Italy and Spain, for example, have generally lower vitamin D levels and greater COVID mortality. Scandinavians tend to have greater levels of the vitamin in their bloodstreams and their countries’ COVID death rates have been lower.
The researchers noted that high levels of vitamin D will not prevent someone from catching COVID. High doses of vitamin D, however, taken immediately after the virus is detected, especially in older adults, may prevent the virus from gaining a grip on the lungs and thereby save lives.

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