Professor Rachel Neale, principal research fellow at the QIMR Berghofer medical research institute, has been studying the impact of vitamin D supplementation for the past decade.
She highlighted that vitamin D plays an important role in modulating the immune system, such as dampening the over-reaction of the immune system when an infection occurs.
While the interest in administering vitamin D to COVID-19 patients has garnered traction, she is of the opinion that it is more important to first address deficiencies in patients first.
“There's been a couple of early studies that are really promising, suggesting that if they are given a very big dose of vitamin D, they might do better than those who aren’t given.
“But, we don’t yet the gold standard randomised controlled trial to help us know whether or not that is a particularly useful treatment.
“But I have to say, if I have a patient who is vitamin D deficient, I will absolutely be treating that,” Prof Neale said.
One concern is that overdosing on vitamin D could increase the risk of falls in elderly, hence, she believes it would be preferable to administer huge doses in severely sick patients “where the potential benefits outweigh the potential harms”.
Biomarker or actual causal link?
Prof Neale, who has led the world’s second-largest trial of high-dose vitamin D supplementation (also known as the D-health trial), recently published new findings which showed that supplementation could reduce the duration of symptoms but not the risk of respiratory tract infection.
She and her research team are also analysing other findings, such as vitamin D supplementation on mortality, bodily pain, erectile dysfunction, depression, and incontinence.
One of the key goals of the trial is to assess whether vitamin D deficiency is causing a particular illness or is simply a biomarker of a person’s health condition.
Listen to find out more about her research career.