How sunlight may help us fight coronavirus

How sunlight may help us fight coronavirus, by Mark Whittaker.

Rachel Neale did her PhD in skin cancer prevention and has done plenty of research into the dangers of sunlight. Yet every day around noon the professor strips down into shorts, or maybe pulls up her skirt, exposes a bit of belly if there’s no one around, and bares as much of her skin as she can to the hard Brisbane sun.

It’s only for five to 10 minutes. But having last year published the most comprehensive review and meta-analysis of the effect that vitamin D has on acute respiratory tract infections, she’s in a good position to judge what may be helpful if she ever gets exposed to COVID-19. …

In Neale’s review, which encompassed 78,000 participants, it was found that those with low levels of vitamin D — the “sunshine vitamin” — were almost twice as likely as those with high vitamin D levels to get the type of extreme lung infections that now are killing COVID-19 sufferers, and they were even more likely again to be sicker for longer.

And so how does this translate to the pandemic? “Now, more than ever, is not the time to be vitamin D deficient,” Neale says from Brisbane’s QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute. “It would make sense that being vitamin D deficient would increase the risk of having symptomatic COVID-19 and potentially having worse symptoms. And that’s because vitamin D seems to have important effects on the immune system.” …

For all vitamin D’s advantages, Neale doesn’t take vitamin D pills. She is cognisant of the emerging evidence that the sun provides more benefits than just the sunshine vitamin.

Which may also help explain why black people in the US are harder hit by COVID. White skin is a feature that evolved specifically to allow more vitamin D production from sunlight, useful in the low light levels found far from the equator.