A recent Irish study carried out by The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) based at Trinity College Dublin has found that Vitamin D3 plays a critical role in preventing respiratory infections, reducing antibiotic use, and boosting the immune system response to infections.

The report entitled ‘Vitamin D deficiency in Ireland – implications for COVID 19. Results from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA)’ has been widely shared across the media in Ireland.

Their press release highlighted the importance of taking a Vitamin D supplement, with one in eight Irish adults under the age of 50 thought to be deficient in this vital vitamin.

Vitamin D3 occurs naturally with exposure to the sun for just 10-15 mins per day, but here in Ireland it can only be made between late March and September. And with our ever so inclement weather and cloud cover, the lack of direct sunshine can lead to difficulties in obtaining a sufficient amount of Vitamin D3 for the majority of our population.

Some of TILDA’s key findings are:

  • 47% of all adults over 85 are deficient in winter 
  • 27% of adults over 70 who are ‘cocooning’ are estimated to be deficient
  • 1 in 8 adults over 50 are deficient all year round
  • Only 4% of men and 15% of women take a Vitamin D supplement

TILDA researchers recommend that adults over 50 should take supplements – not just in winter, but all year round if they don’t get enough sun. Those who are ‘cocooning’ at present should also take supplements.

Professor Rose Anne Kenny, Principal Investigator of TILDA, said:

‘’We have evidence to support a role for Vitamin D in the prevention of chest infections, particularly in older adults who have low levels. In one study Vitamin D reduced the risk of chest infections to half in people who took supplements. Though we do not know specifically of the role of Vitamin D in COVID infections, given its wider implications for improving immune responses and clear evidence for bone and muscle health, those cocooning and other at-risk cohorts should ensure they have an adequate intake of Vitamin D. Cocooning is a necessity but will reduce physical activity. Muscle deconditioning occurs rapidly in these circumstances and Vitamin D will help to maintain muscle health and strength in the current crisis.” 

Dr Eamon Laird, Research Fellow in Medical Gerontology and co-author of the report, said:

 ‘‘These findings show our older adults have high levels of vitamin D deficiency which could have a significant negative impact on their immune response to infection. There is an even larger risk now of deficiency with those cocooning or confined indoors. However, vitamin D deficiency is not inevitable – eating foods such as oily fish, eggs, vitamin D fortified cereals or dairy products and a daily 400 IU (10ug) vitamin D supplement can help avoid deficiency. However, Ireland needs a formal vitamin D food policy/recommendation, which we are still lacking – for instance Finland has such a policy and has virtually eliminated deficiency in their population.”

Vitamin D is readily found in foods like eggs, liver and oily fish – such as salmon or mackerel – as well as fortified foods such as cereals and dairy products.

To view the full report from TILDA, click here