Vitamin D and acute and severe illness – a mechanistic and pharmacokinetic perspective

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The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has generated high interest in factors modulating risk of infection, disease severity and recovery. Vitamin D has garnered interest since it is known to modulate immune function and vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased risk of respiratory infections and adverse health outcomes in severely ill patients. There are no population representative data on the direct relationship between vitamin D status and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 infection risk and severity of COVID-19. Data from intervention studies are limited to four studies. Here we summarise findings regarding vitamin D status and metabolism and their alterations during severe illness, relevant to COVID-19 patients. Further, we summarise vitamin D intervention studies with respiratory disease outcomes and in critically ill patients and provide an overview of relevant patient and population guidelines. Vitamin D deficiency is highly prevalent in hospitalised patients, particularly when critically ill, including those with COVID-19. Acute and critical illness leads to pronounced changes in vitamin D metabolism and status, suggestive of increased requirements. This needs to be considered in the interpretation of potential links between vitamin D status and disease risk and severity and for patient management. There is some evidence that vitamin D supplementation decreases the risk of respiratory tract infections, while supplementation of intensive care unit patients has shown little effect on disease severity or length of treatment. Considering the high prevalence of deficiency and low risks associated with supplementation, pro-actively applying current population and patient management guidelines to prevent, monitor and correct vitamin D deficiency is appropriate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-38
Number of pages16
JournalNutrition Research Reviews
Issue number1
Early online date9 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023


  • Covid-19
  • Critical illness
  • Respiratory disease
  • Vitamin D

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