Just as Covid-19 swept the world, so too is the misinformation about how it should be treated. But sometimes false information can also come from the facts – and that can be very difficult to deal with.
Why vitamin D?
There are many suggested treatments for Covid-19.
Hydroxychloroquine, Ivermectin, and vitamin D – all, even if studied. Suggesting that treatment can work and find it out of the ongoing research is all part of a common scientific process.
However, online, primary, or secondary quality research can be distributed without context. And this old confusion can be exploited by people who promote conspiracy theories.
There is some idea as to why vitamin D might be useful in the treatment or prevention of Covid.
It plays a role in the body’s defenses and has already been recommended for everyone in the UK to take a supplement in the winter, and those at high risk of vitamin D deficiency are advised to take it throughout the year. To date, no studies have shown sufficient results to support higher doses to prevent or treat disease – although this does not mean that it will not change in the future.
Should I start taking vitamin D?
It is therefore understandable that it was taken as advice by many online. Some, however, have gone so far as to suggest that Reddit forums say that governments never talk about the effectiveness of vitamin Ds, but instead focus on vaccines and police tracking; or the suspicion that the vitamin is ignored because the World Health Organization is on Big Pharma salary.
But governments have adopted cheaper, more effective treatments like dexamethasone, once confirmed. And the vitamins themselves are worth millions of pounds.
What are the lessons?
This is not general evidence of gold – that would require a randomized controlled trial, in which people are assigned a treatment or a type of dummy, so scientists can determine if the result is due to treatment.
Experimental studies indicate that certain groups are both likely to be deficient in vitamin D and catch Covid adults, obese people, people with dark skin (including blacks and South Asians).
Deficiency may be a factor in these groups being at high risk, or there may be other health and environmental factors driving the decline in vitamin D levels and infection.
The NHS recommends that people with darker skin, for example, people with African, African-Caribbean or South Asian backgrounds, should consider taking a vitamin D supplement throughout the year.
Vitamin levels can also fall as a result, rather than as a cause, of illness.
We will be able to differentiate vitamin D as a cause by using randomized controlled trials such as those currently in use at Queen Mary University of London.
One paper from the University of Barcelona caught the eye, saying that this was just a form of study.
It has suggested that vitamin D has been remarkably successful, with an 80% reduction in intensive care units and a 60% reduction in Covid mortality.
Widely shared online. But it has been removed from the Lancets preprint server beyond concerns about the definition of research and is now under investigation.
Deletion was not shared in the way the original paper was.
Vitamin D was given to all wards that normally care for patients according to how sick they are, not randomly. And Covid patients in the study who died had very different levels of vitamin, to begin with, suggesting that they were very sick from the beginning.
Conservative MP David Davis, who called on Parliament to introduce vitamin D in hospitals, told the BBC that although it had been withdrawn, he believed research still showed that vitamin D was important and that the government should fund more research on it.
Aurora Baluja, a pediatrician and in need of critical care in Spain, who reviewed Barcelona’s Lancet study before it was withdrawn, said the type of overdose found in the paper was not found in a randomized controlled trial, making it much easier to be biased.
He said that although vitamin D deficiency was a risk factor for people dying in intensive care, vitamin D supplementation alone had not been able to reduce the risk for those patients.
Dr. Baluja explains that deficiency is often caused by something far more serious, such as malnutrition or kidney failure, than by the death of patients.
What is the danger?
When the findings are in line with human worldviews – for example, that natural resources do not harm you, Prof Sander Van der Linden, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge, explains – this puts them in a position to share them.
While the worlds of online natural health and other treatments, as well as people who disagree with vaccination theory are different, they can pass.
Anti-vax accounts are closely linked to other topics – religion, medicine and other therapies, the natural community, says Professor Van der Linden.
This means that they can share topics that will appeal to people in those communities and spread the message that, for example, you do not need a vaccine, you can just take vitamin D, unless you are overly marked that the message contradicts – vax when it comes from their feed, he explains.
Vitamin D is very safe (although a few completely safe medical interventions, especially in high doses) so it may not appear to be very harmful to the wrong information.