As some of us enter the winter months, the level of available sunlight will drop dramatically and with that people’s natural production of vitamin D, a nutrient that has received widespread global attention since COVID-19 reared its ugly head earlier this year.
We at OmegaQuant talk a lot about the lack of omega-3s EPA and DHA in the diet, but vitamin D is just as sparse, leading to insufficiency at best and deficiency at worst.
While the COVID pandemic has caused widespread challenges worldwide, perhaps one of the only silver linings is that it prompted many people to take stock of and become more proactive about their health. As a result, they actively pursued healthier lifestyles — exercising more, eating better, taking their vitamins.
Vitamin D has been generating the most interest, simply because many people believe they aren’t getting enough, and it seems to be spurring headlines when it comes to COVID-19.
A recent survey conducted by Lycored, a nutritional ingredient supplier, found that two-thirds (66%) of people are worried they are not getting enough vitamin D. Concerns about vitamin D deficiency were particularly high among millennials (74%) between the ages of 25 and 34 years old.
This survey was conducted between Oct. 8 and 14 this year, during a time in which there were different levels of restriction on movement across the three countries surveyed. New Zealand, which currently had the least restrictive guidelines related to the pandemic, had less-concerned consumers (53%) compared to either the U.S. (72%) or Australia (69%).
These findings seem to reflect prior research indicating an extremely sharp increase in interest and consumption of vitamin D. Mentions of vitamin D, for example, increased by 181% across social media platforms between September 2019 and September 2020.
Interest is also high in countries where governments encourage vitamin D consumption in their official advice. For example, in the U.K., people are now advised by the government to take 10 micrograms of vitamin D per day, which led to a 20% increase in new product launches containing vitamin D between 2019 and 2020.
“Of course the coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on vitamin and supplement markets and one of the most obvious trends has been increased interest in vitamin D,” Christiane Lippert, global product manager of vitamins and delivery systems at Lycored, said. “Our research supports the case that this is largely a result of concern about the effects of spending more time indoors. Clearly, many sun-deprived consumers are looking to supplements, and this demand is likely to increase in the near future, especially in countries entering the winter months.”
The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), the leading trade association for the dietary supplement and functional food industry, conducted a COVID-19 survey earlier this year, which revealed that two in five (43%) supplement users changed their supplement routine since the start the pandemic. And although the proportion of supplement users in the COVID-19 survey also pointed to a dip in overall usage when compared to last year’s consumer survey (76% vs. 77% in 2019), results of its most recent consumer survey help to demonstrate, along with increases in sales market data, that a substantial segment of supplement users are taking more products. This includes users who are adding new supplements to their regimen, increasing the dose(s) and/or frequency of usage, and more, especially in the vitamin and mineral category.
When consumers were asked their reasons for taking dietary supplements, data demonstrate that more consumers are taking dietary supplements to support immune health. While overall health and wellness benefits remains the most cited reason to take dietary supplements by all users (40 percent), immune health has replaced energy as the second most popular reason, with 32 percent citing this factor as why they take supplements (up from 27 percent in 2019). Further, immune support is the number one reason to take dietary supplements for users aged 18-34 (38 percent). Following immune support, users report taking supplements to fill nutrient gaps in their diet (25 percent); to support heart health (23 percent); and for hair, skin & nails (22 percent).
In light of the pandemic, CRN’s 2020 survey takes a closer look at specific ingredients supplement users are taking to support their immunity, mental health, sleep health and energy. When it comes to supplements taken for mental and sleep heath, melatonin, magnesium and CBD were among the most popular ingredients. Data also revealed that vitamin C (61 percent), the multivitamin (57 percent), and vitamin D (47 percent) are the top three ingredients users are taking to support their immune health. Other high profile immune ingredients like zinc, probiotics and elderberry also ranked among the top 10 list of immunity ingredients according to the 2020 survey.
Conducted annually since 2000, the CRN Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements has served as the leading resource for statistics on usage of dietary supplements. The 2020 survey was fielded Aug. 27-31, 2020, by Ipsos, and was funded by CRN.
New Study Shows Majority of COVID Patients Deficient in Vitamin D
Over 80% of 216 COVID-19 patients in a hospital in Spain had a deficiency in vitamin D, according to a late October study published online in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism.
Vitamin D is a hormone produced by the kidneys which controls blood calcium concentration, and has an impact on immune system response. Deficiency in vitamin D, which is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies, has been linked to a variety of health issues. However, when it reaches severe stages, new research is elucidating the impact that more minor cases of deficiency might be linked to.
According to this study, 80% of the COVID-19 patients in the hospital had vitamin D deficiency, and men overall had lower vitamin D levels than women. The authors of the study linked low vitamin D levels to increased serum levels of inflammatory biomarkers, such as ferritin and D-dimer. Additionally, those with serum levels of vitamin D less than or equal to 20 ng/mL had longer hospital stays, and a greater prevalence of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.
Because this was an observational study, no causative relationship between vitamin D levels and COVID-19 outcomes could be established by the authors. Still, the believe this research is worth further investigation as the virus tightens its grip on patients globally.
“The interplay between vitamin D and viral infection is an area of growing interest, and interaction with host and viral factors, immunomodulatory effects, induction of autophagy and apoptosis, and even genetic and epigenetic factors have been reported as antiviral effects of this hormone,” the authors said.
“Our study was carried out in a hospitalized population, and in this sense, it is worth mentioning that serum 25OHD has been considered as a negative acute-phase reactant and its values have been reported to be decreased during acute inflammatory diseases. Thus, our COVID-19 patients had a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency, and serum 25OHD levels significantly and negatively correlated with ferritin and D-dimer values, indicating that vitamin D might have a beneficial role on the systemic inflammatory state of this viral disease.”
They went on to say that one approach is to identify and treat vitamin D deficiency, especially in high-risk individuals such as the elderly, patients with comorbidities, and nursing home residents, who are the main target population for COVID-19,” study co-author José L. Hernandéz said in the announcement of the publication. “Vitamin D treatment should be recommended in COVID-19 patients with low levels of vitamin D circulating in the blood since this approach might have beneficial effects in both the musculoskeletal and the immune system.”
Nutritional Deficiencies Among US Veterans
Catch A Lift Fund LLC is an organization that works with disabled U.S military veterans. This charitable organization focuses on getting veterans reacclimated to health via physical training, and supplying free gym memberships and exercise equipment as funds allow. In addition, they provide educational resources for veterans concerning healthy lifestyles and nutrition with certified health coaches and those who specialize in nutrition. One of those health coaches is Army veteran Don Wright.
During the last year Don has worked with these disabled veterans, he says most are suffering from being substantially overweight. In nearly every case, he reports that these veterans were being prescribed medications to combat PTSD, stress, anxiety and often, various anti-psychotic meds. And many of these veterans were extremely overweight as a result of these very medicines.
“I would ask them if they had their vitamin levels and or various health markers checked during their visits when blood was drawn. In nearly every situation the answer was no. Care was and is being primarily directed at prescribing medications to treat symptoms without looking at underlying causes,” he said. “Many times, these various meds were causing confused thinking, brain fog, dopiness, suicidal thoughts, general weakness (a sign of a stressed immune system) and feelings of inadequacy.”
As a matter of course, Don urged these veterans to have their vitamins checked at their next visit – to ask their primary care physician to include these basic checks to get a better handle on general system balance. In almost all cases, these doctors would not do this, but when they did they would include only a basic check – sometimes D3 and rarely any other vitamin or nutrient, deficiency of which could be indicative of a general system-wide health problem.
The vets who did have their levels checked via a private doctor or a functional medical practitioner, almost always had very low levels of key nutrients, in particular vitamin D and omega-3s. Fat soluble vitamins as well as water soluble vitamins would be low. Minerals and trace minerals were almost always low. Talking about the benefits of omega-3s for the heart and brain was often met with confusion — for many it was their first time hearing about these important nutrients.
“Having looked at the basic diets of most of these veterans I noticed diets were heavy in processed foods and fast food, and lacking in nutrient dense vegetables. I suggested to many of them the need to not only have their vitamin levels checked but also to inquire about having their essential omega three levels checked,” Don explained. “Some of the veterans, on their own did manage to have these levels checked. And in every case they were found to be extremely low, especially omega-3 fatty acids.”
In fact, for the few who were checked, the ratios of omega 6 to 3 were heavily tilted towards an unhealthy level with omega-6 in some cases greater than 20:1. “I inform every veteran of the importance of balance in their diets and encourage all of them to eat more seafood, salmon in particular, and to use healthy oils such as extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil, avocado oil and when available MCT oil – to avoid using margarine,” Don said. “Sadly, far too many of these veterans do not have the monetary resources to purchase these healthy products.”
Don believes Veterans Administration and its healthcare providers, like so many traditional clinicians who focus almost exclusively on this symptom/prescription model (typical western medicine model) are failing patients.
“This needs to change, and change quickly if we are to see a rebound in general health and well-being in this nation – especially as concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic continue to grow,” he said. “We spend more than any other western nation on our healthcare and yet fall way behind in our overall level of health.”
Don claims he has seen wonderful results with the veterans he’s worked with. “I have seen them drop significant weight, not by subscribing to some new or weekly weight reduction program, but adhering to a new and healthier way of eating, balanced with a new and reinvigorated way of life – lifestyle. Good food, proper hydration, sleep and exercise coupled with good social ties will eliminate most if not all of the ills associated with diabetes, heart disease and cancer,” he said.
The Omega-3 Index Studied In the US Military
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry looked at suicide risk among male soldiers in the U.S. military. Researchers accessed a blood bank and measured the plasma omega-3 level for 800 suicide victims. We don’t know the time that the blood was drawn relative to their suicide attempt, but the levels were compared to 800 controls. Researchers estimated that the highest DHA level was related to around a 6% Omega-3 Index and the lowest to around 2.7%, which is really quite low.
What is interesting is there’s a step function here. Only those with the very highest DHA levels were at lower risk for attempting suicide. Anyone with a level below 6% were more likely to be attempting or to have committed suicide. In fact, there was a one-and-a-half to twofold higher risk for anyone with less than the highest omega-3 levels, which translates to a suicide risk being 50-80% greater compared to those at the highest omega-3 levels.