The government has ordered a review into whether vitamin D can help fight coronavirus amid growing evidence that people with chronically low levels are at greater risk.
The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) has been asked to look at the latest research linking vitamin deficiencies with poor outcomes.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) is also carrying out its own review with help from Public Health England (PHE) to help doctors decide the best course of treatment.
A spokesman for Nice said: “I can confirm that we are currently working on this review. We are aiming to publish the document in the coming weeks.”
There has been growing speculation that one of the reasons why Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are so disproportionately impacted by coronavirus is due to endemic low levels of the vitamin D in BAME populations.
The vitamin is produced naturally in the body when skin comes into contact with sunshine, and is vital for healthy bones, strong muscles and a good immune system. But not as much sunlight can penetrate darker skins meaning less of the vitamin is produced.
The NHS currently recommends people should take vitamin D supplements in the winter and this month the Scottish government has recommended people from BAME groups with dark skin take the supplement.
Researchers from Anglia Ruskin University recently published a study showing a significant correlation between the number of coronavirus cases compared to average population levels of vitamin D.
Italy and Spain have both experienced high mortality rates, and scientists found both countries have lower than average vitamin D levels.
This is partly because people in southern Europe, particularly the elderly, avoid strong sun, while their darker skin pigmentation also reduces the body’s ability to produce natural vitamin D.
In contrast, the highest average levels of vitamin D are found in northern Europe, due to high consumption of cod liver oil and vitamin D supplements, and possibly less sun avoidance.
Scandinavian nations are among the countries with the lowest number of Covid-19 cases and mortality rates per head of population in Europe.
Vitamin D has been shown to protect against acute respiratory infections. It also regulates the response of white blood cells, preventing them from releasing too many inflammatory cells which may stop the body overreacting to the virus.
A study by Trinity College Dublin and University of Liverpool has shown that vitamin D helps reduce serious complications in coronavirus patients.