COVID19: IS VITAMIN D A ‘CURE’ OR FREE ‘SNAKE OIL’?

Photo: Nick Bolton on Unsplash

By Marika Sboros

Roll up, roll up for the mystery tour of miracle “cures” for COVID19. Is there really such a thing as a cure for the latest coronavirus infection rampaging across the globe?

Of course not. And if there were, you can bet your bottom dollar that whoever dreamt one up would already be trumpeting it globally. And – hopefully – singing a resonating, scientific-research song in support.

But is anything coming even vaguely close to a COVID19 cure? Or at the very least, as close as modern medicine is able to come at this trying time? And could vitamin D possibly be “it”?

Scottish medical doctor, author, speaker and sceptic Malcolm Kendrick believes it could be. Which is why I heartily recommend his latest blog as it is up to his usual, irreverent, evidence-based standards.

Dr Malcolm Kendrick

Some might see this blog as yet another glorious, golden opportunity to attack Kendrick. (Scroll down for a link to the full version.) It always intrigues me how many MDs are out there who dismiss Kendrick out of hand. And who do so with what looks suspiciously like obscene, knee-jerk haste.

After all, he is demonstrably not alone in his interest in vitamin D supplementation. Nor is he alone on possible benefit in prevention or even death from COVID19 infection.

Kendrick opens his blog by saying what he suspects most people say these days. That it’s hard to keep track of what’s happening around COVID19.

Swirling, multiplying COVID19 tales

“Stories swirl and multiply,” he writes. “And almost everyone seems to be trying to get something out of it.”

People are claiming miracle cures and success but it is difficult to verify any such claims, he writes. And normal research rules, “flawed though they often are”, have completely flown out the window.

“It is like the wild west, with snake oil salesmen announcing wonderful products that not only cure (COVID19) but every other disease…”

Click here to read: COVID-19: why the biggest risk is not the virus!

 

By way of hypothetical examples, he gives the following:

You sir, you look like an intelligent man, a man who understands science. A man who can see that my wonderful potion can cure almost every ailment that befalls man. Baldness, wrinkled skin, impotence, COVID19…”

“A vaccine you say, sir, of course, I shall have one ready and done in four months, start to finish … Safety, sir, did you mention safety? No need for such things, vaccines are always safe, never caused anyone any harm. Never a single case of any problems.”

‘”Narcolepsy, sir… sounds like nonsense, never heard it. Guillain-Barré, sir. My, we have been at the medical dictionary, haven’t we? In my opinion, if you can’t spell it, you don’t need to worry about it. Sounds French to me anyway. And you can’t trust the French, can you?

What say the WHO?

“The WHO, sir… what’s that you say? It may be that you can get infected twice. So, how is any vaccine going to work? Well, I must say, sir, that vaccines are far more effective at creating immunity than getting the actual infection. Everyone knows that, sir… What do you mean, utter bollocks? I can tell you that a vaccine will always work, every time, guaranteed 100% effective, or your money back.”

“Bill Gates is behind it all, sir, you say, pushing for mandatory vaccines for all diseases. You think it’s like something out of 1984? Well, Mr Gates is an expert in viruses sir, is he not…His operating system did allow a massive attack on IT systems in the NHS in 2017, sir. Now, if you will excuse me, I have more snake oil to sell… Tatty bye, sir, and good luck to you.”

“Roll up, roll up.

Which brings him back to vitamin D as a possible “miracle” COVID 19 “cure”.

However, don’t take him too literally. He knows full well that in the West, the medical profession hates vitamins with a passion. “Those who promote vitamins are the very personification of woo, woo medicine,” he says. “They have no proven beneficial effects, they rant and on, and on. Insult and attack.”

Click here to read: Vitamins: Kendrick on which you really need and why

 

And before you attack him for gross ignorance, he knows that even though experts call vitamin D the “sunshine vitamin”, it is actually a hormone. A “secosteroid” hormone at that. And that it has a variety of skeletal and non-skeletal effects including “regulation of innate and adaptive immune responses”.

Vitamin D: hormone, vitamin, both?

That’s all the medico-scientific speak. Kendrick also knows that experts remain divided on the hormone-versus-vitamin debate. Some say that vitamin D is all hormone. Others say it shares some characteristics with vitamins, so it’s really both.

But as Kendrick points out regularly, he knows that the “vi”’ in vitamin, stands for vital. “As in, if you don’t take them, you die. So, they do kind of have important beneficial effects on the human body.”

Of course, he also knows the counter-argument: that vitamins are not necessary. Therefore, his response: “Of course, they are, even doctors agree with that.” Thus, the real battle, as Kendrick makes clear, is about the optimal level for health.

Experts like to say that almost everyone has sufficient vitamin intake from the food they eat, he writes.  And that if you take supplements, you will just create “expensive urine”. The experts also regularly warn that in addition, some vitamins can be dangerous in excess.

“We have seen up to one death a year, in some cases,” Kendrick writes. You can easily imagine the rueful, ironic smile playing around his lips.

He poses the question: “Leaving the battles about vitamins to one side, what are the optimal levels of various vitamins?”  And he answers it straight away: “No-one really knows … for sure.”

 The real, central issue

The central problem here, he says, is that when experts first isolated vitamins, their deficiencies were creating major, obvious health problems.

A lack of vitamin C, for example, caused scurvy – leading to death, he writes. Lack of vitamin B1,  aka thiamine, led to beriberi, with nerve and muscle damage and wasting and death. A severe lack of vitamin B12 led to nerve damage, anaemia, weakness and death.

“So, the focus was very much on finding the dose of vitamins required to prevent these serious health problems. However, no-one was particularly interested in looking beyond this bare minimum, to try and establish what level of a vitamin is associated with optimal health.

“For example, what are long term effects on cancer and heart disease? Or prevention of infections?”

Looking specifically at vitamin D, the major, immediate health problem a lack of it causes is on bones, he says.

Job well undone?

“Without vitamin D, your body can’t absorb calcium properly and the bones become thin and brittle. Children with low vitamin D develop rickets, bent bones that do not grow properly.”

Once the experts established the level of vitamin D required to protect the bones, that was “pretty much seen as job done”. But that just raises more questions: is it better for health to have higher levels? Can we be optimally healthy with, what many believe, to be a low vitamin D level?

More importantly, right now, does a higher level of vitamin D enable you to fight off infections, such as influenza and COVID19? Of course, as Kendrick stated upfront, in the middle of COVID19 chaos, people are “claiming everything about everything”.

Fancy blowing your mind?

So, he takes you back to 2008 to an article titled On the epidemiology of influenza, Virology Journal. And yes, this is “about as mainstream as you can possibly get in the world of virus research”.

“If you want to get your mind blown, read it,” Kendrick suggests. Brilliant suggestion that I recommend you follow.

It  set out to answer seven questions:

  • Why is influenza both seasonal and ubiquitous and where is the virus between epidemics?
  • Why are the epidemics so explosive?
  • And why do epidemics end so abruptly?
  • What explains the frequent coincidental timing of epidemics in countries of similar latitudes?
  • Why is the serial interval obscure?
  • Why is the secondary attack rate so low?
  • And why did epidemics in previous ages spread so rapidly despite the lack of modern transport?

Cut to scientific chase

Of course, Kendrick is well aware that COVID19 is not influenza. However, he says that past research on influenza is “about as close as you can get”. He also cuts to the chase of a very long article for you, if you don’t have the time to blow your mind:

“The authors concluded that the reason why flu was far more common in winter is that people have much lower Vitamin D levels.”

He says a whole lot more and ends the blog saying that the increased risks of low vitamin D levels on COVID19 seem dramatic. The benefits of supplementation with vitamin D could also be “just as dramatic”.

Ever one to practises what he preaches, Kendrick has been going out into the sun wherever possible in the last month. He takes Vitamin D3 supplements 4,000 units a day. And he strongly advises everyone else to do the same.

Vitamin D  “is snake oil and it is free – if provided by the sun”, Kendrick says. The only drawback he sees: he cannot make any money out of this at all.

“Oh well. Perhaps I should claim to be making a (COVID19) vaccine that could earn me billions.”