The below article was issued for the South African Poultry Association (SAPA) by Protactic Strategic Communications
As this generation comes to grip with the COVID-19 pandemic, countries around the world are implementing public health measures to control the spread of the virus. Regular handwashing and sanitising, social distancing, and wearing of masks has become the new normal. But is there more that we can do?
Published in Nutrients in March 2020, American scientists think that they may have found the next piece to the COVID-19 puzzle: vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin. In the past, much of the attention vitamin D got was in relation to healthy bones, skeletons, and healthy teeth. We now know that vitamin D deficiency may increase the risk of autoimmune diseases, heart disease, and cancers. But this new research leads scientists to think that vitamin D may reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections, and even the flu. While more research is needed, this is based on the fact that the outbreaks occur in winter, a time when vitamin D is at its lowest in our bodies, and that the number of cases towards the end of sunny summers are low.
One in five people in the UK have low vitamin D levels, which is why the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SCAN) in the UK urged people to make sure they are getting enough vitamin D. Our multi-ethnic population combined with vast differences in climates and the number of hours of sunshine across our large country make it difficult to know the vitamin D status of South Africans.
There are two ways to increase our vitamin D levels: sunlight and diet. When we expose our skin to the UVB rays from sunlight, the body makes vitamin D. The more sun you get, the more vitamin D your skin will make, and both dark-skinned and light-skinned people have the same capability to make vitamin D. While there is no consensus as to how much sun to get, about 15 minutes three times per week on exposed legs and arms with no sunscreen should do the trick.
Chilly winter days and staying indoors to help curb the rise in COVID-19 infections may mean that we are getting less vitamin D from the sun. Eggs, mushrooms, and tinned fish with bones like pilchards are some of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D. With almost one third of our daily needs in one large egg, eggs are a source of vitamin D. Did you know that most of the vitamin D is found in the egg yolk? This is all the more reason why we should eat the whole egg. Added to this, the egg yolk contains half of the protein of the whole egg and tossing the egg yolk means you are also missing out on zinc and selenium, two other nutrients important for supporting our immune system.
While we wait for more conclusive evidence, get a double whammy of vitamin D, and serve up some eggs, whether simply scrambled or as a fancy frittata, while catching some sunshine. It is important to remember that as much as healthy eating is very important, it does not take away the need for good hygiene measures like regular handwashing and sanitising, covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, and keeping a distance between yourself and others.
- Buttriss, J.L., 2015. Vitamin D: Sunshine vs. diet vs. pills. Nutrition Bulletin. 40, 279-285.
- Grant, W.B. et al., 2020. Evidence that vitamin D supplementation could reduce risk of influenza and COVID-19 infections and deaths. Nutrients. 12(4), 988.
- Norval, M. et al., 2016. Vitamin D Status and Its Consequences for Health in South Africa. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 13 (10),1019.