(Photo courtesy Black Health Matters)
By Black Health Matters
You need vitamin D. And one of the best ways to get it is by being outside in the sun’s UV rays, which activate vitamin D production. But you’re most likely spending a lot of time indoors, both because it’s winter with its shorter days, and we’re in the midst of a pandemic with experts advising us to stay home.
And if you’re African American, you’re probably among the 80 percent to 90 percent of us who are short on vitamin D no matter the season or coronavirus recommendations. (Higher melanin content in our bodies interferes with our ability to produce vitamin D.)
So you’re probably wondering if you need to take a vitamin D supplement, especially since some research suggests adequate levels of the vitamin can help keep your immune system healthy and may protect against respiratory illnesses. One study even indicated that patients hospitalized with COVID-19 who had sufficient levels of vitamin D were less likely to die.
But before you pad your vitamin D stores, let’s talk about why it’s so important. Vitamin D is most commonly linked to bone health and keeping your bones strong. It also:
- reduces inflammation
- supports your immune system
- strengthens muscles and reduces spasms and cramping
- helps with glucose metabolism
- regulates cell growth
In fact, vitamin D is crucial because it has multiple jobs in your body. If your vitamin D level is low, you can be more susceptible to osteoporosis, cancer and chronic diseases such as depression, diabetes, heart disease, depression and weight loss. For folks with cancer, vitamin D may also affect survival rates.
So, yes, if you’re staying inside more during the pandemic, your vitamin D level may drop. But experts say it’s hard to say if the sun was providing you with the right amount, even before COVID-19. Your daily comings and goings outside were mostly likely not enough to maintain the appropriate levels of the vitamin. UV levels vary across the country, and you might not process it well depending on your age and the aforementioned pigment in your skin.
In fact, though sunlight is one way to get vitamin D, it’s not the most efficient—or safest—way. It’s better to get vitamin D from your diet, through foods like eggs, juices, milk, mushrooms, salmon or yogurt.
If you are unable to get vitamin D in your diet, talk to your doctor about taking a supplement. Your vitamin D level should be checked at your annual physical to determine if you need a supplement. If you do, discuss how much you need to take (too much could increase calcium in your blood, leading to bone and kidney problems) and if you’re taking a medication that might interact badly.
Though some early findings seem to suggest that patients who have optimal levels of vitamin D may decrease their risk of contracting COVID-19 and the severity of the disease if they do get it, much more research is needed to understand the connection between the virus and the vitamin.