Researchers at the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin released an important report recently in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report is entitled “Vitamin D deficiency in Ireland-implications for COVID-19. Results from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA)”. (TILDA) study showed that vitamin D plays a key role in preventing respiratory tract infections, reducing antibiotic use, and enhancing the immune system’s response to infections.
Because one in eight adults under 50 years of age in Ireland is vitamin D deficient, the report emphasizes the importance of increasing vitamin D intake.
How is vitamin D produced?
Vitamin D is produced in the skin, and the human body can produce enough vitamin D by only 10 -15 minutes of exposure to sunlight per day. In Ireland, people can only produce vitamin D between the end of March and the end of September. It cannot be made in winter, and the amount of vitamin D we make in summer depends on how much sunlight we get, the weather, and other factors. Access to adequate vitamin D can be a challenge even in summer due to cloud cover, rainy weather, and lack of sunlight.
The good news is that this deficiency can be compensated for by adequate food intake and supplemental nutrition. Vitamin D is readily found in eggs, liver, and oily fish such as salmon or mackerel, and in fortified foods such as cereals and dairy products.
Does the Irish consume adequate vitamin D?
Researchers at TILDA have found that daily intake of vitamins across Ireland is inadequate. Some of the major findings of TILDA are as follows:
l 47% of adults over 85 years of age are vitamin D deficient in winter;
l It is estimated that 27% of adults over 70 years of age who “live in cocoons” are undernourished;
l One in eight adults over the age of 50 years is perennial vitamin D deficient;
l Only 4% of men and 15% of women took vitamin D supplements;
Who is most likely to be vitamin D deficient?
Those who are rarely exposed to sunlight or consume inadequate fortified foods are the most dangerous, especially those who are currently trapped or confined at home. Others at high risk are those who are obese or lack of exercise, and those who have asthma or chronic lung disease.
Vitamin D is available without a prescription. What is now needed is for people to increase their vitamin D intake, especially when vitamin D supplementation is very low nationwide, especially in men.
What is the recommended intake of Vitamin D?
TILDA researchers suggest that adults over the age of 50 should be supplemented with vitamins —not only in the winter, but throughout the year if they do not get enough sunlight. Those who are currently “staying at home” should also be supplemented with nutrition.
Professor Rose Anne Kenny, lead researcher at TILDA, said: “We have evidence to support the role of vitamin D in the prevention of chest infections, especially in older adults with low vitamin D levels. In one study, vitamin D reduced the risk of chest infection by half in people taking supplements. Although we do not know the specific mechanism of action of vitamin D against COVID-19 infection; given its wide impact on the immune response and clear evidence of bone and muscle health, those at home and other high-risk groups should ensure that they have adequate vitamin D intake. Because in this case, muscle degeneration will occur quickly, and vitamin D will help maintain muscle health and strength in the current crisis. ”
Dr. Eamon Laird, a medical gerontology researcher and co-author of the report, said: “These findings suggest that our elderly have severe vitamin D deficiency, which may have a significant negative impact on their immune response to infection. Now, those who stay at home are more likely to be vitamin D deficient. However, vitamin D deficiency is not inevitable—fatty fish, eggs, vitamin D-fortified cereals or dairy products, and 400 iu (10 ug) of vitamin D supplementation per day can help avoid deficiency. However, Ireland needs a formal vitamin D food policy/recommendation, and we still lack such policies—such as those in Finland, for example, and almost eliminate vitamin D deficiency in its population.”
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