According to Atlanta-based surgeon Dr. Lesley Ray Matthews, 58, vitamin D is one of the most vital components to not only fighting COVID-19 but also most infections.

While vitamin D is not a cure or a total solution, Matthews says that it’s definitely a game-changer when it comes to helping the immune system protect the body.

“Vitamin D is a hormone, it’s not a vitamin,” Matthews said. “That makes a difference from other vitamins. This hormone is very important in having optimal human health.”

“Vitamin D or hormone D controls 3,000 out of 30,000 genes in the human body. And among those genes that it controls is your immune response system. It determines how strong your immune system responds to any type of infection whether it’s a bacterial infection, fungal infection, viral infection, or parasitic infection. It also does cancer surveillance so it seeks out cancer cells or abnormal cells and kills them before they can become full-grown cancer.”

In addition to controlling the immune system, vitamin D also regulates inflammation in the body.

A lot of people don’t know one of the worst aspects of COVID-19 is that it produces a lot of inflammation in the body, causing damage to the organs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, which predominately include shock, cardiac dysfunction, abdominal pain, and elevated inflammatory markers, became common last year during the pandemic.

“We know that most people have inflammation around their heart, lungs, brain, and kidneys. Multisystem organ failure is basically what kills or the damage to the organs is what kills. Vitamin D decreases inflammation and increases white blood cells. The white blood cells are what actually fight coronavirus,” Matthews said.

Unfortunately, almost half of the country has a vitamin D deficiency, approximately 42 percent according to the National Institutes of Health

“You cannot have a healthy immune system if you’re vitamin D deficient. Half of the world’s population is vitamin D deficient,” Matthews said. “It’s the most common nutritional deficiency in the world that has never been addressed. So we have a pandemic on top of a pandemic because vitamin D deficiency is the biggest pandemic.”

The solution to preventing a vitamin D deficiency is obviously increasing the amount of the hormone that is consumed. Unfortunately, humans can only get 10 percent of their vitamin D from their diet, which is found in eggs, fatty fish and certain mushrooms.

The majority of vitamin D comes from sunlight, and while going outside seems like an easy solution, the lifestyle of the average person prevents them from spending an adequate amount of time outside.

“90 percent of vitamin D comes from the sun striking your skin. It produces a compound that goes to the liver and then it goes to the kidneys,” Matthews said. “To produce that 90 percent you need that healthy skin from being outside during the appropriate time of day. You also need a healthy liver and healthy kidneys.

“A lot of people have kidney disease, liver disease, cirrhosis of the liver or an alcoholic liver, so they’re not able to produce enough vitamin D. We recommend that people go outside for 15 minutes without sunscreen and then go back and put on sunscreen.”

According to the federal government, normal vitamin D intake levels are 600-800 international units, which is what the average person needs per day. However, due to most people’s indoor lifestyles, Matthews’ research shows that a much higher dosage is needed.

“I recommend that people go to their doctor and get their vitamin D levels checked, which is a simple blood test. If you’re really low you’re going to need the doctor’s prescription strength which 50,000 international units and then you’re going to need to take a maintenance dose after that,” Matthews said.

A lot of people don’t realize that vitamin D levels are closely correlated with their immune systems, which factors into the ability to fight off infections and viruses. (Photo Credit: Courtesy/Dr. Leslie Ray Matthews)

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