July 25, 2020

Vitamin D crucial in management of COVID-19, Sickle Cell Disorders — Dr David Ajibade

SICKLE cell anaemia

The Brain & Body Foundation, an organisation established in Nigeria and the USA is focused on educating the Nigerian public on health issues, providing safe, innovative solutions to health conditions affecting the brain, endocrine (hormones), immune and cardiovascular systems, and on alleviating the suffering of medically fragile children, including those diagnosed with severe brain disorders, genetic disorders, and sickle cell disease.

The Foundation holds a free clinic every Friday for children from low-income families. It has also signed MOUs with the Federal Ministry of Health and the Nigerian Military to address Mental Health and Brain disorders in Nigeria.

In this interview with Chioma Obinna, the Foundation Executive Director, Dr. David Ajibade speaks on the role of Vitamin D in COVID-19 treatment among others.

READ ALSO: Children below age 12 with sickle cell disorder can live normal life – Expert


Scientists recently reconfirmed the importance of vitamin D in disease prevention and its role in strengthening the immune system. What is your take on this?

In this COVID-19 period, we are beginning to find out more about Vitamin D, not only for its role in the disease, but also for the place it has in human sickness and health as a whole, and quite frankly, I cannot help but marvel at what it can do in a whole host of conditions.

For starters, vitamin D is crucial for the protection and the health of the upper respiratory system, which, as we all know, is the main route through which C-19 invades the body.

Secondly, and probably even more important, vitamin D regulates or modulates the immune system, It ensures the immune system responds appropriately to threats, not over aggressively, but appropriately.

This is especially important in COVID-19, where we now know that what kills people the most is a hyper- or over-reactivity of the person’s immune system that is responsible for most of the deaths. People with optimum levels of vitamin D almost never die from the disease.

Who is most at risk of vitamin D deficiency?

People with dark skin (the darker your skin, the less readily it makes vitamin D), those who do not eat much fish or seafood, the elderly, overweight and obese, and those who stay indoors most of the day. Those with chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and diabetes.

How does vitamin D deficiency affect the respiratory tract?

Vitamin D plays an important role in respiratory health through its effects on lung development and structure, respiratory muscle strength, inflammation, and immune response to respiratory pathogens.

How does vitamin D deficiency affect persons with SCD?

Vitamin D deficiency affects sickle cell disease in multiple ways. We have already pointed out that this deficiency is commoner in dark-skinned people, and SCD is most common (and most severe) among blacks. We also know that vitamin D is not only vital for the effective functioning of the cardiovascular, immune, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems. It is also vital for the development and preservation of the brain. It is literally important for the function of practically every cell in your body.

What we know is this: individuals with SCD have challenges with the systems mentioned earlier. This is why vitamin D plays such an important role.

We began to see remarkable results when we started supplementing children with sickle cell disease vitamin D supplements, absolutely remarkable results. These included fewer crises, better sleep, less chronic pain, and fatigue. In general, we saw a significant improvement in the overall quality of life.

It was reported recently that different people and races naturally have different levels of vitamin D in their system, how does it affect Africans?

In a recent survey, they found that those with the darkest skin, had in general, the lowest amounts of vitamin D.

READ ALSO: World Sickle Cell Day: Nigerians in Diaspora, Foundation support children with disease

Africans, especially dark-skinned Africans from the sub-Saharan region (with the exception of South Africans) tend to have low levels of vitamin D IF they are not out in the sun regularly. This is especially true of those who work in nice air-conditioned offices with an uninterrupted electricity supply.

What type of foods can you get vitamin D in?

Vitamin D is present in food, but what you get from food is certainly not adequate. Common foods that contain vitamin D include salmon, a popular fatty fish. Others are herring and sardines.  This can also be found in cod liver oil, canned tuna, egg yolk, mushrooms, and fortified foods among others.

What can government and other philanthropic organisations/individuals do to support the less privileged to have access to vitamin D supplements?

They will need to be convinced before they can invest in it. This is why we are heavily into research as we make our findings; we will be more able to convince individuals and organisations with means.  In my opinion, we need to shout this from the rooftops.

What are the most effective ways to increase and sustain vitamin D levels?

In my opinion, the best way for black people to get adequate levels of vitamin D is by supplementation. And the research shows that adults should be getting no less than 10,000 IUs a day.

For those who are in critical need of the Foundation assistance, especially for sickle cell and autism, how can they contact you?  What are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency and how is it diagnosed?

There are three answers to this question; by what one does on a day-to-day basis, that is, their lifestyle, and by testing. It can also be determined through symptoms.

The commonest signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include; getting sick or infected often. fatigue and tiredness.

Feeling tired can have many causes, and vitamin D deficiency may be one of them. Bone and Back Pain (especially lower back pain).  It could also show through depression, impaired wound healing, bone loss, hair loss, and muscle pain.

This could be discovered through testing. The definition of vitamin D deficiency is a level of less than 20ng/ml. Vitamin D insufficiency is a level less than 30ng/ml