People with lower levels of vitamin D could be at higher risk of dying if they get coronavirus, according to new research.
UK public health officials are now urgently reviewing if the vitamin could reduce the risk of people contracting the virus, which has a disproportionate number of black, Asian and minority ethnic people testing positive. Not as much sunlight can penetrate darker skins, which produces less vitamin D, which naturally occurs in the body when skin comes into contact with sunshine.
The body’s ability to produce the vitamin also reduces as a person gets older.
Research from Cambridge’s Anglia Ruskin University found that European countries where vitamin D deficiency is prevalent have seen higher death tolls since the start of the pandemic.
RELATED: Follow our full coronavirus coverage
In the UK, Public Health Scotland and NHS boards are looking into emerging evidence to see whether the vitamin should be prescribed in hospitals and to high-risk groups to prevent a second wave of coronavirus.
The NHS currently recommends people should take vitamin D supplements during winter.
This month the Scottish government also recommended people from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups with dark skin take the supplement.
Adrian Martineau, a professor of respiratory infection and immunity at Queen Mary University of London, is leading a study looking into vitamin D deficiency and COVID-19.
“Vitamin D could almost be thought of as a designer drug for helping the body to handle viral respiratory infections,” he told The Guardian.
“It boosts the ability of cells to kill and resist viruses and simultaneously dampens down harmful inflammation, which is one of the big problems with COVID.”
Italy and Spain have both experienced high coronavirus death rates, and scientists found both countries have lower than average vitamin D levels.
A study by Trinity College Dublin and University of Liverpool has also shown that vitamin D helps reduce serious complications in coronavirus patients.
The UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition is now looking into the latest research linking vitamin deficiencies with poor outcomes.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is also carrying out its own review with help from Public Health England to assist doctors in deciding the best course of treatment.
It is understood the reviews will be published in the coming weeks.