Vitamin D Deficiency Combined With Diabetes, Overweight Linked to More Severe COVID-19

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Having a low level of vitamin D in your blood, combined with having diabetes or being overweight, is linked to worse outcomes in people hospitalized for COVID-19, according to a new study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Scientists have long known that diabetes is linked to worse outcomes in people who are hospitalized for COVID-19, including a higher risk for admission to the intensive care unit (ICU) and for death. But until this latest study, there hasn’t been any data available on how vitamin D deficiency may lead to even worse outcomes in people with diabetes who are hospitalized for COVID-19. Vitamin D is known to play a role in regulating the immune system, which may be compromised by elevated blood glucose levels in people with diabetes. Needless to say, the immune system is essential to recovering from COVID-19, and a diminished immune response may increase the risk for severe disease, death, or lasting disability in people who develop the viral infection.

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Vitamin D deficiency seen more often in those with severe COVID-19

For the latest study, researchers looked at 88 people hospitalized for COVID-19 at a hospital in Italy. The median blood level of vitamin D for these patients was 16.3 ng/ml — for comparison, most experts recommend a level between 20 ng/ml and 50 ng/ml. Overall, 68.2% of the study participants were deficient in vitamin D. This deficiency was seen more often in male patients, and in those with the most severe COVID-19. There were also links seen between lower vitamin D levels and higher blood glucose, a higher body-mass index (BMI, a measure of weight that takes height into account), and higher levels of blood markers of inflammation.

Among patients with vitamin D deficiency, those who also had diabetes or were overweight (or obese) were more likely to experience severe COVID-19, as shown by a a greater inflammatory response and worse measures relating to breathing and lung function. This combination of conditions was linked to worse outcomes in these areas than having vitamin D deficiency, diabetes, or overweight by itself.

“We showed, for the first-time, a strict association of [vitamin D] levels with blood glucose and BMI in COVID-19 patients,” the study authors wrote. They concluded that vitamin D deficiency might play a key role in the harmful effects of having diabetes or being overweight among people who develop COVID-19. Still, this study doesn’t definitely prove such a role for vitamin D, due to both its small size and the limited way it looked at vitamin D levels.

More research is needed — with a more detailed look at the relationship between vitamin D and glucose levels — to firmly establish that vitamin D deficiency plays a role in worse outcomes related to COVID-19 in people with diabetes.

Want to learn more about coronavirus and diabetes? Read our latest COVID-19 updates.

Originally Published August 24, 2021
Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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