NU researchers discover strong correlation between vitamin D deficiency and COVID-19 mortality rates


Evan Robinson-Johnson/Daily Senior Staffer

The Technological Institute, home to many McCormick classes. McCormick Prof. Vadmin Backman led the team that discovered the correlation.

Vivian Xia, Reporter

A group of Northwestern researchers have recently found a strong correlation between severe vitamin D deficiency and COVID-19 mortality rates.

According to a University release, the researchers studied publicly-available global data from the COVID-19 pandemic and observed that patients from countries with high COVID-19 mortality rates had lower levels of vitamin D compared to those from countries that were not affected as severely. The team reported the new finding in a paper on medRxiv, a pre-print server for health sciences.

Led by McCormick Prof. Vadim Backman, the team was inspired to look at vitamin D levels after noticing unexplained differences in COVID-19 mortality rates among different countries. Although some members of the team initially hypothesized other factors might explain these differences, the team found a “significant correlation” between vitamin D deficiency and COVID-19 mortality. They also discovered a strong correlation between vitamin D levels and cytokine storm, a hyperinflammatory condition caused by an overactive immune system.

“Cytokine storm can severely damage lungs and lead to acute respiratory syndrome and death in patients,” a postdoctoral research associate and the paper’s first author Ali Daneshkhah said in the release. “This is what seems to kill a majority of COVID-19 patients, not the destruction of the lungs by the virus itself. It is the complications from the misdirected fire from the immune system.”

Despite the paper’s findings, Backman said in the release that people should not take excessive doses of vitamin D because it may have negative side effects. The article has not been certified by peer review, and Backman added that the subject needs further research in order to find how vitamin D can be used most effectively to protect against COVID-19 complications.

“It is hard to say which dose is most beneficial for COVID-19,” Backman said in the release. “However, it is clear that vitamin D deficiency is harmful, and it can be easily addressed with appropriate supplementation.”

Backman added the findings might be another “key” to helping protect vulnerable populations with a prevalence of vitamin D deficiency, including African Americans and elderly populations.

Vitamin D both enhances immune systems and prevents them from becoming over-reactive and attacking the body, meaning healthy levels of vitamin D could protect patients against severe complications from COVID-19, including death. This is where Backman believes vitamin D plays a major role, according to the release.

“Our analysis shows that it might be as high as cutting the mortality rate in half,” Backman said in the release. “It will not prevent a patient from contracting the virus, but it may reduce complications and prevent death in those who are infected.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @vivianxia7

Related Stories
Brainstorm: Unmasking the Research Behind COVID-19
Research team identifies potential drug target in virus causing COVID-19