Vitamin D

Hilary thinks I’ve been misleading about the size and poshness of our flat. It’s neither big nor posh. In these dispatches, I’ve referred to our “deck” a few times, but we don’t really have a deck. We’ve got a fire escape attached to a kitchen door and ten feet of metal runway before the steps begin. Hilary has done so much to make those ten feet a pleasant place for her to be that I’ve come to see it as a balcony lovely enough for any Rapunzel. She’s floored it with mats and ringed it with flowering plants and herbs, and set up a beach chair in the direct sunlight. I always encourage her to sit there. I do that because she’s cute as a button in the sunshine. I also do it because I know that it’s a good way for her to get Vitamin D.

When my sister was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, doctors suggested that she begin taking supplemental D in high doses. I was encouraged to take it, too. Even our physician uncle, who is medicine-averse in the way that only certain doctors seem to be, recommended Vitamin D. Sloan-Kettering doesn’t like to assume too much about supplements, but the prevailing attitude we’ve found there about Vitamin D hasn’t been discouraging. Dr. John Campbell, the nurse and teacher whose measured but compassionate videos have been a lifeline for me through this crisis, strongly recommends taking Vitamin D as a preventative measure against the effects of the coronavirus.

It’s hard to get a sufficient amount of Vitamin D from food. Ninety per cent of Vitamin D comes directly from the sun. During the winter, we’re inside, and we’re shielded from rays by thick walls and heavy clothes. Consequently, we who live at northern latitudes are likely to be deficient. Human immune systems, beleaguered by stress and sugars and various pathogens, are strongly supported by Vitamin D. I’ve been taking two thousand international units of the vitamin every day, which is quite a bit, but it still isn’t as much as some enthusiasts are recommending. My hope is that it’ll reverse any deficiency I’ve acquired over the winter, and put me on firmer footing during my next encounter with a pathogen. Besides the social-distancing and hygiene techniques that we all know well by now, this is the only prophylactic measure I’m taking against the coronavirus. It also helps that it comes in gummy form. The strawberry ones are my favorite.

Do I believe that, by this act alone, I will ward off the virus? Ha, no. I often wonder whether it has any benefit at all. I’m the guy who won’t take an aspirin when I have a headache; I don’t drink or smoke, and I distrust all drugs. But I’ve got to acknowledge that some of the early reports have been encouraging. Campbell points to a recent large-sample study done in Indonesia that found that coronavirus patients with Vitamin D deficiency were ten times more likely to die than those whose vitamin levels were within a healthy range. That paper hasn’t been peer reviewed. But if it’s even partially true, that’s a remarkable discovery, and one that we might even call a breakthrough. It means that hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved by a reasonably priced supplement. Hydroxychlorine is generic and unreliable at best, remdesivir is expensive to manufacture; Vitamin D, by contrast, is there on the shelves of the Duane Reade. Authorities ought to be encouraging us to take it.

Yesterday morning, Politico reported that fifty-eight per cent of those who’ve died from the coronavirus deaths in the United States are African-American. This might be the saddest statistic in the whole two-month landslide of regrettable numbers. This is more than just a powerful indictment of social inequality. It’s a grim reinforcement of the foundational cruelty that is America’s original sin. We know that African-Americans are, on the whole, more likely to be working jobs that require them to come into contact with pathogens, and less likely to be able to afford quality healthcare. We know about risk factors and underlying conditions common among African-Americans. We also know that it’s harder for people with dark skin to manufacture a sufficient amount of Vitamin D than it is for those of us with lighter skin. The Cooper Institute, for instance, reports that seventy-six per cent of African-Americans fall short of the recommended amount of the vitamin. A sane and competent government would be rushing supplements to African-American neighborhoods. If the Indonesian study is right, an act like that could save many lives. Even if it’s wrong, we’d still be providing people with a vitamin, which is a healthy thing to do — morally as well as physically.