Covid-19 and vitamin D

Writing for the Nutrition Bulletin, Helena Gibson-Moore looks at recent research into vitamin D and its relationship with Covid-19.  

Vitamin D is the collective name for two separate compounds known as vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. D3 is found in some foods, including fish, eggs and red meat. It is also taken into the body via exposure to sunlight. D2 is not triggered by sunlight and can only be obtained by some fungi and yeasts. Good levels of vitamin D is considered to be healthy protection from conditions such as osteomalacia (a softening of the bones) and nutritional rickets in children.  

Vitamin D deficiency is common in the UK. Government advice states that people should consider a vitamin D supplement during the winter months. In April 2020, Public Health England (PHE) reissued advice advising people to take a supplement during the spring and summer. While PHE cited concern around a lack of exposure to sunlight during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown measures, they also stated there was no evidence that vitamin D supplementation would help prevent Covid-19.  

Gibson-Moore takes a look at the evidence published so far on the relationship between Covid-19 and vitamin D. She states that while there has been research linking vitamin D with protection from upper respiratory tract infections, whether this research can be applied to Covid-19 is not currently known. Observational studies have shown that some groups that are at greater risk from hospitalisation from Covid-19 also have lower vitamin D levels. Following these findings, guidance was published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in December 2020. It states that:  

“[while] low vitamin D status has been associated with more severe outcomes from Covid-19, it was not possible to confirm causality because many of the risk factors for severe Covid-19 outcomes are the same as the risk factors for low vitamin D status.” 

While a clear causal link between vitamin D and risk of Covid-19 has not been established, the NICE guidelines still advise that “adults, young people and children over 4 years should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms (400 units) of vitamin D throughout the year” if they fall into one of a number of categories. One of these categories is “spending most of their time indoors because of the Covid19 pandemic”.  

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Gambling in times of lockdown

This study aims to capture the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on gambling behaviour.  

Gambling in the UK is easily accessible and widespread. ‘Land-based’ gambling is available in bookmakers, casinos, bingo halls, supermarkets and corner shops. The global nature of sport also means that sports betting is available online around the clock. The 2018 Health Survey for England reported that 54% of adults in the UK had gambled in the preceding 12 months. It calculated that 3.6% of the population experienced some sort of gambling-related harm, while 0.4% were problem gamblers.  

This gambling landscape was significantly altered when the first lockdown was enforced on 23 March 2020. Measures included the closure of all ‘land-based’ gambling establishments. These measures remained largely in place until the end of June 2020. Measures were then reintroduced in the second and third lockdowns in November 2020 and January 2021 respectively.   

The study highlights research showing that lockdown could be potentially harmful for gamblers. Risk factors that may be worsened by lockdown include:  

  • increased levels of boredom;  
  • social isolation;  
  • financial strain caused by job losses; and 
  • loss of regular working patterns and routine.  

While these risk factors have been shown to worsen gambling behaviour, the practical impact of lockdown also physically limited opportunities for gambling; most outlets were shut, the majority of sporting events were cancelled, and people were told to stay indoors. The authors point to some preliminary findings from studies that showed decreased levels of gambling during the pandemic. One study suggests that when there is no sport on, the money spent decreases, rather than being directed to other types of gambling.  

In their own research, the authors found that the frequency of gambling decreased in the first month of lockdown in every group in their sample, apart from among those who were already gambling very heavily before the pandemic. Therefore, the authors conclude by acknowledging that lockdown did not affect the gambling behaviour of everyone in a uniform way. The authors hope their study “gives initial insight that provides a foundation for assessing and measuring the impact of Covid-19 on longer-term change in gambling behaviour”. 

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