Can vitamin D help fight COVID-19? ABC News Interview - 6 minutes
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- 00:00 Speaker 1: Some intriguing research about a possible link between COVID-19 outcomes and vitamin D, something that most Americans, and especially people of color, are severely lacking. Known as the sunshine vitamin, it's produced by the body in response to sun exposure and found in some foods like fish, eggs, and fortified dairy and grains. Tonight, we bring in Dr. L. Ray Matthews, who studies vitamin D. He's a recently retired trauma surgeon and researcher at Morehouse School of Medicine in Grady Hospital Atlanta. Thanks so much for joining us, doctor.
- 00:30 Dr. L. Ray Matthews: Thank you for having me.
- 00:32 S1: So as a trauma surgeon in an inner city hospital, you saw some of the worst injuries imaginable. What happened when you decided to administer large doses of vitamin D at prescription levels?
- 00:44 Matthews: Well, after we started giving vitamin D, which is really a hormone. So it's a hormone, it's not a true vitamin. So hormones work different from vitamins. Vitamins are just spark plugs that make reactions go at a faster rate. The vitamin or hormone D controls 3,000 out of the 30,000 genes in a human body, among those are your immune response system and your inflammatory response system. Those two are very important for a surgeon because my job is to reduce infection and reduce inflammatory responses.
- 01:16 S1: Now, everyone needs vitamin D, but you say that half the world's population actually has a deficiency. Would we all be healthier and able to heal faster if we took vitamin D supplements?
- 01:28 Matthews: Yes, we would. Actually, we decreased the hospitalization of our patients, their length of stay about three or four days on the floors and the ICUs. So our patients healed faster, they had fewer infections, fewer heart attacks, fewer strokes. They got well and came back to clinic and most of them didn't want any narcotics and most of them went back to work and they were actually productive paying members of society instead of relying on public assistance.
- 01:56 S1: Are you concerned at all about the pandemic causing more people to stay inside and thus reducing their exposure to sunlight and limiting their amount of vitamin D?
- 02:07 Matthews: No, you can supplement Lindsey. I take a supplement. I'm indoors a lot, and as a surgeon, I used to work 80-100 hours a week. And so you can imagine, I didn't get outside often. So you can take supplements which would help.
- 02:22 S1: And you say that obesity also plays a role in vitamin D levels?
- 02:26 Matthews: Yes, it does. The vitamin D gets stored in the fat cells instead of being in the blood cells. So there are about 30 different conditions that can lower your vitamin D level.
- 02:35 S1: And tell us why getting enough Vitamin D is a particular concern for African Americans and anyone with darker or browner skin?
- 02:43 Matthews: Well, dark-skinned people usually have lower vitamin D levels because we have melanin in our skin, and melanin is a natural sunscreen, which blocks 98% of vitamin D production. So a dark-skinned person would have to stand outside three to 10 times longer in the sun in order to make the same amount of vitamin D. As a result, dark-skinned people tend to have their vitamin D levels 30% lower than the average lighter skinned person.
- 03:09 S1: And let's get to COVID-19 in particular. What does the research tell us about the potential links between vitamin D and COVID outcomes and what might it mean for black and brown communities?
- 03:21 Matthews: The research now that it's coming out is showing what I've been saying all along and doing all along. Actually as a trauma surgeon, patients are on the ventilators. They get ventilator-associated pneumonia. When I started at Grady, approximately 13-14 years ago, they had a 80% incidents of pneumonia. So when I started my high-dose protocol vitamin D regimen, we reduced our incidence of ventilator-associated pneumonia down to 20%. The national average is 10%. And we killed or reduced all type of pneumonias, viral, bacterial, fungal, it basically works against any pneumonia. If you understand the biochemistry and the pathophysiology of how pathogens hurt the body, you can understand the mechanism, you can kill anything basically.
- 04:10 S1: So COVID-19, though, in particular, what's your thought as it pertains to vitamin D?
- 04:15 Matthews: The way COVID works is that what vitamin D does is, like I said, it's a hormone so it increases your white blood cell count. White blood cells are the things that fight off the bacteria, the viruses, and the fungus. For the medical personnel, if you supplement your patients with vitamin D, about four or five days later, you'll see an increase in their CD4 count, which is T-cell, or another name for white blood cell. So you can directly measure it in terms of biomarkers. And also in COVID or coronavirus, when you... They have a lot of inflammation in their bodies. You see the C-reactive protein and Interleukin 6, those are medical terms, these are just biomarkers in the blood, and you see those decrease. So you see the CD4 white count go up and you see the inflammation decrease. So those are two things that COVID does. Basically has harmed the body with all the inflammatory reactions that it causes.
- 05:10 S1: So just some of the early studies that have come out with regard to vitamin D and finding people who have deficiencies, I guess, in vitamin D, they don't seem to be faring as well with COVID-19, is that right?
- 05:23 Matthews: Yes, the lower your vitamin D level, the worse you do. There's a study, came out in annuals of medicine years ago, that showed when your vitamin D level gets less than 18 nanograms per milliliter, that's the amount of vitamin D measure in your blood, your risk of death goes up 30% for all causes. Well, there's coronavirus, regular pneumonia, flu, traumatic brain injuries, gunshot wound victims, so having low vitamin D levels increase your hospital... I wrote a paper saying low Vitamin D levels increased the mortality rate, hospital length of stay, and hospital cost.
- 06:01 S1: Dr. Matthew, is really fascinating stuff. We thank you so much for your time.
- 06:05 Matthews: Thank you for having me.
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