Vitamin D supplements could be crucial for elderly ‘cocooning’ from coronavirus

3 Apr 2020

Image: © pololia/

Those aged 70-plus ‘cocooning’ themselves across Ireland during the coronavirus pandemic may benefit from vitamin D supplements.

A study published to the Irish Medical Journal has suggested that taking vitamin D supplements may help boost resistance to respiratory infections, such as those caused by Covid-19. Authored by researchers from TU Dublin and Trinity College Dublin, the study estimated that 27pc of adults over the age of 70 are deficient in vitamin D.

This issue has been exacerbated by the Government’s request for people in that age bracket to ‘cocoon’ themselves at home. This includes limiting interaction with other people to prevent them contracting Covid-19 as they are one of the most at-risk groups.

Future Human

People cocooning themselves at home – which also includes those with underlying health conditions – are severely limiting their sources of vitamin D, such as sun exposure or eating the right foods.

The researchers said one of the most worrying aspects of the findings showed that just 10.5pc of those aged 70-plus take a vitamin D supplement.

“Of particular concern, we have observed very high levels of vitamin D deficiency in those who are obese and those with pre-existing lung conditions, both of which have been observed to make individuals particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 and complications from the virus,” they added.

Improving immune response

Other findings suggested that 47pc of all adults over the age of 85 are deficient in vitamin D in winter, and that one-in-eight adults over 50 are deficient all-year round. When it comes to taking vitamin D supplements, just 4pc of men surveyed said they took them, versus 15pc of women.

Around 15 minutes of sun exposure in Ireland – between late March and late September – is one natural source of vitamin D. It is also available in food such as oily fish, eggs, liver and fortified foods such as cereals and dairy.

The minimum recommended daily dose for those at risk of developing Covid-19 is between 15 and 20 micrograms, or 10 micrograms for everyone during the winter time.

Prof Rose Anne Kenny, principal investigator at the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, said: “Though we do not know specifically of the role of vitamin D in Covid-19 infections, given its wider implications for improving immune responses and clear evidence for bone and muscle health, those cocooning and other at-risk cohorts should ensure they have an adequate intake of vitamin D.

“Cocooning is a necessity but will reduce physical activity. Muscle deconditioning occurs rapidly in these circumstances and vitamin D will help to maintain muscle health and strength in the current crisis.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic