Note: As seen on Medium

African Americans suffer higher rates of mortality from SARS-CoV-2/Covid-19, (Covid) infections than the rest of the US population. Some of that can be explained by the higher rates of known comorbidities — obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and so forth — among that community. However, reports suggest African Americans still die from Covid at higher rates even when those comorbidities are accounted for continue to surface. A range of possible explanations have been suggested for the disparity, as discussed in a recent NY Times article and CNN, and no doubt play an important role in the higher infection and mortality rates among African Americans.

However, I feel there may be a missing link that’s being ignored: the fact that African Americans also tend to have considerably lower levels of 25(OH)-vitamin D, the serum marker of vitamin D status. While vitamin D deficiencies are not uncommon among the US population, it’s especially prevalent among African Americans (1,2). One simple explanation for that is due to the darker pigmentation: African American’s require considerably more time in the sun to produce the active form of the vitamin compared to their Caucasian counterparts. Other factors are dietary patterns and lower rates of supplemental vitamin D intakes.

Adequate vitamin D is essential to immunity, including both the innate and adaptive immune system, including modulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines. No doubt, people have heard the term “cytokine storm” as it relates to Covid and serious complications from this virus. For those who want additional details on cytokine storm, WebMD covers it nicely for non-scientists/medical professionals and my thoughts on adjuvant therapies for treatment of cytokine storm and its relevance to the lethal complications of Covid can be found HERE.There are scientists now recommending D status be considered an independent risk factor for disease severity with Covid.

One recent study found a strong correlation between vitamin D status and mortality rates. Scientists from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Foundation Trust and the University of East Anglia examined the extensive existing literature that catalogued average levels of vitamin D among the citizens of twenty European countries. They then compared those figures with the relative numbers of Covid deaths in each country and found a strong correlation between them leading the researchers to conclude “Vitamin D levels are severely low in the aging population especially in Spain, Italy and Switzerland. This is also the most vulnerable group of population for COVID-19” and “We believe, that we can advise Vitamin D supplementation to protect against SARS-CoV2 infection.”

It should be noted that while such research is not able to determine cause and effect between the correlation found, it’s a compelling finding that should not be ignored. While clinical trials specific to Covid and vitamin D are lacking they are in the works as we speak. Meanwhile, various review papers have been published focused on vitamin D and its potential benefits to mitigating the serious complications of covid via the known role of vitamin D and its downstream metabolites and treatment with supplemental vitamin D (in the form of D3) may be warranted. In this current pandemic, a specific emphasis on simple testing of vitamin D status among African Americans and supplemental vitamin D seems essential as one possible piece of the issue as to the disparity in mortality rates among African Americans and Covid infection. While vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it has proven to be exceptionally non-toxic at very high doses and is inexpensive and readily available.

Direct intervention/RCT studies are required for more conclusive recommendations of clinical benefit, but in my opinion, It behooves medical professionals working with that population to take the vitamin D status into account and treat accordingly. There’s no magic pill here, and other factors as to why that population experiences higher mortality rates can’t be ignored; I strongly suspect widespread vite D deficiencies among African Americans is one small but important piece to that puzzle.

(1) Vitamin D and African Americans.

(2) Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults.

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2 Comments
  1. Wednesday 4 weeks ago

    When I heard that African Americans were suffering a higher mortality rate from COVID-19, I wondered if Vitamin D deficiency could play a role. Thank you for covering this topic and for all the research links.

    • Author
      Will Brink 4 weeks ago

      Glad it helped. Share it around so that it may alert others.

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