There are many theories out there about extra ways you can protect yourself from the COVID-19 virus (in addition to getting vaccinated and following recommended mask use, social distancing and hand hygiene guidelines, of course). One of the most popular ideas is boosting your vitamin D intake to help to lessen the symptoms of the virus or prevent you from getting it. However, there is a lot more to it than meets the eye.
“We often cannot take claims about how you can treat or prevent COVID-19 at face value,” warns Jennifer Burgess, D.O., a family medicine doctor with Henry Ford Health. “Unfortunately, there is not enough evidence that vitamin D can be used to prevent or treat COVID-19.”
While scientists and doctors have learned a lot in the past year, Dr. Burgess notes that everything we are dealing with the virus and pandemic is relatively new.
“We are still trying to figure out what the standard of care for the coronavirus looks like,” Dr. Burgess says. “The most important thing to remember is that sometimes, what is recommended now could change as we learn more.”
That’s not to say that vitamin D won't become part of the COVID-19 care plan down the line, but it is good to keep an open mind and listen to experts as care recommendations are updated.
The Benefits Of Vitamin D
While it may not be the cure to COVID-19, there are still many ways that vitamin D can improve your health. It can help:
- Strengthen bones
- Build up muscle
- Support your overall immune health
- Improve depression
- Lower cancer risk
How To Increase Your Vitamin D Intake
Many people don't get enough vitamin D, especially those living in the Midwest or regions that don’t get much sun during the winter months.
“This is because the sun is one of the best natural sources of vitamin D,” says Dr. Burgess. “But it is not the only way you can get it. In fact, you doctor will most likely recommend increasing the sources of vitamin D in your diet as a solution.”
Some great food-based sources of vitamin D include:
- Fish that provide healthy fats (tuna or salmon)
- Milk (either cow’s milk or plant-based)
- Egg yolks
- Orange juice
- Fortified breakfast cereals
There are also vitamin D supplements available that could help to boost your levels but proceed with some caution. As a rule of thumb, always talk to your doctor before starting any new supplements. Dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and certain supplements could interact poorly with medication that you already take.
How To Treat COVID-19 Symptoms
If you are experiencing mild symptoms of COVID-19, don’t push yourself too hard to get back to feeling better. Overexerting yourself can only increase your recovery time.
You can treat your symptoms as you would with any other virus – Tylenol, rest and plenty of water. If you are unsure about how to handle your symptoms, talk to your doctor to see what they recommend for your specific situation. (And if your symptoms worsen – high fever (102-103 degrees) and/or rapid breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, or bluish lips or face – call 911 or seek emergency care.)
What About Vitamin C or Zinc for COVID-19?
As for other immune-boosting nutrients like vitamin C and zinc, the jury is still out on whether they may lessen coronavirus symptoms too, but there is probably little harm in taking them.
“Both are fairly common to treat upper respiratory infections, but they won’t prevent you from getting COVID,” Dr. Burgess says. “There is low risk to taking them. If anything, vitamin C is water soluble and an antioxidant.”
Dr. Jennifer Burgess is a family medicine doctor seeing patients at Henry Ford Medical Center in Commerce Township and West Bloomfield