By Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4) – Let’s start by saying this – there’s nothing certain. Because the coronavirus is new, there is no testing completed on anything.

But, in Colorado, experts are saying there may be a way for many people to better protect themselves, particularly those in higher risk groups.

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“We’re trying to scramble in the research community and in the clinical community to find anything that might work,” said Dr. Adit Ginde, professor or emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

(credit: CBS)

Ginde points to a study he led that may offer some protection.

“I think it’s as good as any intervention that is being proposed,” he explained. “And actually there’s very little that’s being proposed in the prevention realm other than the normal precautions of social distancing and hand washing and such.”

The study, was a randomized clinical trial of high dose vitamin D for the prevention of acute respiratory infection among old long-term care residents. In short, right in the wheelhouse of where COVID-19 is hitting hardest.

“The clinical trial that we did a couple years ago in Colorado was actually in over 20 long term care facilities. So with older people living in assisted living and nursing homes, and actually found that giving vitamin D-deficient individuals high doses of vitamin D, reduces their risk of getting respiratory viral infections by 40%.”

What Ginde continues to be enthusiastic about is the benefits for people who may need it most right now.

“That’s what makes me particularly enthusiastic about this intervention currently. Is that we do have evidence specific to older people.”

Their study published in 2017 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society obviously pre-dates the onslaught by the coronavirus, but there are reasons it may apply.

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“So we have no specific evidence for COVID-19, however, coronaviruses in general are common respiratory viruses. This one’s just more potent and more contagious. Circumstantially there would be some reason to believe that vitamin D would work in a similar fashion.“

Vitamin D is a hard worker in our bodies. It’s technically not even a vitamin. It’s a hormone like insulin or cortisol says Ginde that causes downstream effects including affecting what we call our innate immune response, particularly in the respiratory tract. That’s where anti-microbial proteins that are our first line of defense against bacteria and viruses.

(credit: CBS)

“The biology and the mechanisms are actually pretty strongly in support of it,” said Ginde. “Sometimes that does not translate into clinical benefit for patients, but in this case at least the trials that we have done so far would suggest a benefit in the prevention of respiratory viruses.”

“So we’ve looked at asthma, we’ve looked at, COPD or emphysema and then we just looked at the general population of healthy folks as well,” he said.

Those who are otherwise healthy and are not deficient of vitamin D “may not benefit,” but it there is a wide window of tolerance for people who wish to take it, and the “safety margin” he says is pretty high with vitamin D. But like anything it can be overdone and people with issues related to high calcium should discuss with their doctor any change.

But for most people, Ginde says we can tolerate up to 4,000 units a day.

Another thing to make clear, it is not a treatment for the disease. Once you have COVID-19, there is no benefit shown from upping levels of vitamin D.

But as a preventative, he said, “It’s not an unreasonable thing to do and has evidence to support it generally for respiratory illnesses.”

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Alan Gionet