Spending more time in the sun or taking supplements could reduce serious COVID-19 complications as researchers say they have found that vitamin D is hugely beneficial.

In the same week that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has relaxed lockdown measures and said people can exercise outside for longer, the research findings have been released.

A collaborative team from Trinity College Dublin, the University of Liverpool and the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) have been looking at how vitamin D impacts mortality rates among those with coronavirus.

They found the number of deaths were lower among those countries who had higher vitamin D levels.

Surprisingly countries such as Spain and Italy, which had high COVID-19 death rates, both suffer from high rates of vitamin D deficiency, despite their lower latitude positioning and increased exposure to sunlight.

Lower infection and mortality rates were recorded in Norway, Finland and Denmark, which actually have higher vitamin D levels because supplementation and fortification of foods in those countries are more common.

The researchers say the association between vitamin D and COVID-19 deaths rates are “statistically significant”.

Professor Rose Anne Kenny of Trinity College said: “Whereas there are currently no results from randomised controlled trials to conclusively prove that vitamin D beneficially affects COVID-19 outcomes, there is strong circumstantial evidence of associations between vitamin D and the severity of COVID-19 responses, including death.”

She is urging the Irish government to update guidelines as a matter of “urgency” so they can start taking vitamin D supplements in a bid to reduce COVID-19 complications.

She added: “Deficiency is frequent in Ireland. Deficiency is most prevalent with age, obesity, in men, in ethnic minorities, in people with diabetes, hypertension and in nursing homes.”

Dr Eamon Laird added: “Here we see observational evidence of a link of vitamin D with mortality. Optimising vitamin D intake to public health guidelines will certainly have benefits for overall health and support immune function.

“Research like this is still exploratory and we need further trials to have concrete evidence on the level of vitamin D that is needed for optimal immune function.”

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