UW-Madison researchers studying relationship between immune response to COVID-19, vitamin D

MADISON -- There is a wide range of symptoms for the coronavirus. For some, it can be deadly, but many others may only have mild symptoms. Researchers are looking into why the discrepancy exists, and a new study says that vitamin D may be a factor.

Bradford Beach

With summer weather finally returning in Wisconsin, people are flocking outside to soak up the sun -- and vitamin D. How the vitamin affects the body has been a focus of a UW-Madison study.

"I've been working in the area of vitamin D for literally decades, I won't tell you how many," said J. Wesley Pike, a biochemistry professor at UW-Madison.

Pike said he is guardedly optimistic about a new study from Northwestern University which found a strong correlation between vitamin D deficiency and mortality rates for COVID-19. Basically, the study found, countries with a higher mortality rate were countries with lower levels of vitamin D. The hypothesis is that vitamin D helps prevent the immune system from turning on itself.

"These anecdotal studies just don't prove anything and ultimately you have to do the rigorous trial," said Pike.

J. Wesley Pike

The researchers at Northwestern also said more research needs to be done. In the meantime, Pike said vitamin D supplements are an easy option -- especially for people in Wisconsin with fewer days to enjoy the sun.

"It's so easy to overcome the vitamin D deficiency with supplementation that it's the easy answer to this," Pike said.

Pike said vitamin D is not toxic and safe for most people to take, but it's always best to consult your doctor. It is important to note that the study says there is nothing to show that vitamin D helps prevent someone from getting COVID-19 to begin with.