Context: There have been considerable discussions in scientific circles on the importance of  vitamin D in these days of the coronavirus pandemic.

Importance of Vitamin D in the context of COVID-19

  • Various studies point out how vitamin D deficiency can affect COVID-19 high-risk patients.
    • This is in particular for those who are diabetic, have heart conditions, pneumonia, obesity, and those who smoke. 
    • It is also associated with infections in the respiratory tract and lung injury.
  • Vitamin D is also known to help 
    • In having the right amount of calcium in the bones which in turn strengthens bones and prevents osteoporosis.
    • Catalyze the process of protecting cell membranes from damage, 
    • Preventing the inflammation of tissues and 
  • Thus, the levels of vitamin D (and calcium) need to be monitored and when necessary, it should be administered in appropriate doses and frequency by a trained clinician.


Vitamin D and its prevalence

  • Synthesis in body
    • Vitamin D is produced when sunlight (or artificial light, particularly in the ultraviolet region of 190-400 nm wavelength) falls on the skin.
    • Afterward, it triggers a chemical reaction to a cholesterol-based molecule, and converts it into 
      • Calcidiol (adding one hydroxyl group, also called 25(OH)D technically) in the liver and 
      • Calcitriol (or 1, 25(OH)2D) in the kidney
  • Healthy levels
    • It is suggested that the level of 25-OHD in the range 30-100 ng/ml is thought to be sufficient for a healthy body.
    • On the other hand, levels between 21-29 ng/ml are considered insufficient, and levels below 20 ng/ml mean the individual is deficient in vitamin D.

Low levels of Vitamin D in the Indian population

  • Since sunlight is important for the generation of vitamin D, tropical countries have an advantage over the northern countries. 
  • However, India, a nation of abundant sunshine, is surprisingly found to have a massive burden of vitamin D deficiency among the public irrespective of their location (urban or rural), age or gender, or whether they are poor or even rich.
  • The level of vitamin D in India ranges between 3.15 ng/ml to 52.9 ng/ml. 
  • Also, females show consistently lower vitamin D levels than males.

Need for special focus on poor

  • Their vitamin D levels are certainly less (far less) than 10 ng/ml.
  • Given the deficit in vitamin D, it is highly desirable for our governments to 
    • Consult nutrition experts and institutions to advise and suggest the type of nutritive items that can be added to the current ‘ration’ food given to the poor, and the meals given to school children, 
    • Supply free of charge, vitamin D, other vitamins and calcium, in consultation with medical and public health experts regarding the dosage, frequency, and other details.

With these steps, India will have armed its poor against not just the current, but future pandemics as well.