18 Jun 2020

Can sunshine reduce coronavirus risk?

Last month the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) began work to understand recent evidence that Vitamin D could be an important factor in upper respiratory tract health. This, in parallel with work by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) is a developing theme in considering the risk factors associated with the coronavirus, COVID-19.

So called “sunshine therapy” isn’t new, it’s been prescribed informally by medical experts for many years already. What’s different about this research is that it could lead to hospitals prescribing sunshine as a form of therapy to hospital patients with respiratory infections more routinely.

Professor Adrian Martineau of Queen Mary University Hospital is an expert in the field of immune system and respiratory infections states, “Vitamin D could almost be thought of as a designer drug for helping the body to handle viral respiratory infections,” he said. “It boosts the ability of cells to kill and resist viruses and simultaneously dampens down harmful inflammation, which is one of the big problems with Covid.”

Whilst there are no clinical trials to test the impact of Vitamin D on disease outcomes to date, there are multiple studies to suggest that it might have a beneficial effect on upper respiratory health. Traditionally Vitamin D is prescribed as a treatment to support bone health, so this could potentially be a significant step forward to improve disease outcomes.

A systematic review by Martineau et al in 2017 of 25 randomised trials using Vitamin D to treat upper respiratory infections concluded that Vitamin D supplementation was safe, and it protected against acute respiratory tract infection overall. Further, patients who were very vitamin D deficient and those not receiving bolus doses experienced the most benefit.

There are an estimated one billion people worldwide who are vitamin deficient because of variables that include poor diet, lack of exposure to the sun, or clothing restrictions.

Breakspear Medical advise a daily supplement of vitamin D, 4,000-10,000 IU daily. Breakspear are currently offering an at home test for Vitamin D, find out more about Breakspear’s supplement advice here. {link}

If you missed our post on ‘The Ideal Food Plan’ please read further.

About the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN)

The SACN advises on nutrition and related health matters. It advises Public Health England (PHE) and other UK government organisations. Its members are appointed as independent scientific experts on the basis of their specific skills and knowledge.
The SACN includes a series of working groups on important health issues. The Vitamin D Working Group was formally disbanded following completion of its SACN vitamin D and health report in 2016. To date, they have not posted any updates on Vitamin D and possible links to COVID-19 disease outcomes.

What’s the current guidance for Vitamin D intake?

In 2016 the SACN changed previous guidance on Vitamin D as follows:
• a reference nutrient intake (RNI) of 10 micrograms of vitamin D per day, throughout the year, for everyone in the general population aged 4 years and older
• an RNI of 10 micrograms of vitamin D per day for pregnant and lactating women and population groups at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency
• a ‘safe intake’ of 8.5 to 10 micrograms per day for all infants from birth to 1 year of age
• a ‘safe intake’ of 10 micrograms per day for children aged 1 to 4 years
In 2016 the report did not take any account of sunlight exposure when making these recommendations due to the number of complex factors affecting skin synthesis of Vitamin D. Scientists are paying greater attention to this variable as they search for answers to address the higher incidence rates of COVID-19 in BAME populations where absorption and synthesis of sunshine therapy” could be lower.


1. Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data. Martineau et al, 2017 Read more.
2. SACN vitamin D and health report. Read more.