Is the problem racism or vitamins?

Franklin County, Ohio, has decided that it knows what causes the Wuhan virus: Racism. With that sweeping pronouncement, though, one that doesn't distinguish between causation and correlation, the County may be ignoring a more important culprit.

According to a Daily Mail report, Franklin County has declared that the overwhelming number of blacks hospitalized in Ohio for the Wuhan virus must mean that racism is at work:

Officials in Ohio have declared racism a public health crisis in the state’s embattled Franklin County, where twice as many black people are hospitalized for COVID-19 than other races, despite being a minority of the population.

A public health declaration and resolution was passed on Tuesday by commissioners in Franklin County along with a 10-step plan to address racism in the health system, housing and education. 

The resolution was a part of the 2019 Rise Together Blueprint effort to address poverty in Central Ohio that was first announced last year, well before the coronavirus struck.

‘Racism has been a pandemic long before the current coronavirus pandemic,’ Commissioner Kevin L. Boyce said in a statement.

‘Our declaration today is important, but it’s not saying anything that hasn’t been apparent for a long time. COVID-19 has highlighted the health divide between black and white Ohioans, however, and I hope that it can be the catalyst we need to reform the whole health system so that it works for all of us equally,’ he added. 

There’s no doubt that, in Ohio, as in other states, black populations have been hit harder than other populations. We know that there are certain co-morbidities that increase Wuhan virus risks, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart problems, all of which are more prevalent in the black community. Franklin County thinks those are problems of racism; others believe they may have cultural origins.

However, there is one newly identified risk factor that is disproportionately high amongst blacks – and, while it has a lot to do with race, it has nothing to do with racism. This factor is Vitamin D deficiency – or at least a type of Vitamin D deficiency.

There is growing evidence that Vitamin D deficiency makes people more vulnerable to the virus. A Trinity College, Dublin, study believes that Vitamin D deficiency, which is endemic in the elderly, may explain why nursing homes have turned into abattoirs:

According to the report, the study “analyzed vitamin D levels of older people in countries heavily affected by coronavirus,” and they reportedly found that the areas with the higher death rates were also the areas with higher rates of vitamin D deficiency.

Even the National Institutes of Health is suggesting that Vitamin D levels matter:

This article reviews the roles of vitamin D in reducing the risk of respiratory tract infections, knowledge about the epidemiology of influenza and COVID-19, and how vitamin D supplementation might be a useful measure to reduce risk. Through several mechanisms, vitamin D can reduce risk of infections.

[snip]

Several observational studies and clinical trials reported that vitamin D supplementation reduced the risk of influenza, whereas others did not. Evidence supporting the role of vitamin D in reducing risk of COVID-19 includes that the outbreak occurred in winter, a time when 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) concentrations are lowest; that the number of cases in the Southern Hemisphere near the end of summer are low; that vitamin D deficiency has been found to contribute to acute respiratory distress syndrome; and that case-fatality rates increase with age and with chronic disease comorbidity, both of which are associated with lower 25(OH)D concentration.

Blacks metabolize Vitamin D differently from whites. In the past, Vitamin D has always been examined as a marker of bone health. The big mystery for researchers was that blacks appeared to be Vitamin D deficient, yet they had excellent bone health.

It turns out that the tests were measuring one form of Vitamin D that’s beneficial to bone health in whites but that the same tests were missing that bone health in blacks utilizes a different form of the vitamin. All of this ties into the fact that black people, because they have more melanin thanks to the intense sun in equatorial regions, absorb different subsets of Vitamin D. (This article explains what’s going on in greater detail.)

The big question now is whether the same form of Vitamin D that contributes to bone health in blacks also serves as an immune system booster. At a guess, it may not because blacks who are deficient in the standard measure of Vitamin D are significantly more likely to have Type 2 diabetes. Their bones are getting a boost, but the rest of them still needs to have more Vitamin D.

It’s all well and good to virtue signal about racism and Wuhan virus, but it’s more helpful to look at whether blacks have enough Vitamin D to give their immune systems a little extra help. 

Franklin County, Ohio, has decided that it knows what causes the Wuhan virus: Racism. With that sweeping pronouncement, though, one that doesn't distinguish between causation and correlation, the County may be ignoring a more important culprit.

According to a Daily Mail report, Franklin County has declared that the overwhelming number of blacks hospitalized in Ohio for the Wuhan virus must mean that racism is at work:

Officials in Ohio have declared racism a public health crisis in the state’s embattled Franklin County, where twice as many black people are hospitalized for COVID-19 than other races, despite being a minority of the population.

A public health declaration and resolution was passed on Tuesday by commissioners in Franklin County along with a 10-step plan to address racism in the health system, housing and education. 

The resolution was a part of the 2019 Rise Together Blueprint effort to address poverty in Central Ohio that was first announced last year, well before the coronavirus struck.

‘Racism has been a pandemic long before the current coronavirus pandemic,’ Commissioner Kevin L. Boyce said in a statement.

‘Our declaration today is important, but it’s not saying anything that hasn’t been apparent for a long time. COVID-19 has highlighted the health divide between black and white Ohioans, however, and I hope that it can be the catalyst we need to reform the whole health system so that it works for all of us equally,’ he added. 

There’s no doubt that, in Ohio, as in other states, black populations have been hit harder than other populations. We know that there are certain co-morbidities that increase Wuhan virus risks, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart problems, all of which are more prevalent in the black community. Franklin County thinks those are problems of racism; others believe they may have cultural origins.

However, there is one newly identified risk factor that is disproportionately high amongst blacks – and, while it has a lot to do with race, it has nothing to do with racism. This factor is Vitamin D deficiency – or at least a type of Vitamin D deficiency.

There is growing evidence that Vitamin D deficiency makes people more vulnerable to the virus. A Trinity College, Dublin, study believes that Vitamin D deficiency, which is endemic in the elderly, may explain why nursing homes have turned into abattoirs:

According to the report, the study “analyzed vitamin D levels of older people in countries heavily affected by coronavirus,” and they reportedly found that the areas with the higher death rates were also the areas with higher rates of vitamin D deficiency.

Even the National Institutes of Health is suggesting that Vitamin D levels matter:

This article reviews the roles of vitamin D in reducing the risk of respiratory tract infections, knowledge about the epidemiology of influenza and COVID-19, and how vitamin D supplementation might be a useful measure to reduce risk. Through several mechanisms, vitamin D can reduce risk of infections.

[snip]

Several observational studies and clinical trials reported that vitamin D supplementation reduced the risk of influenza, whereas others did not. Evidence supporting the role of vitamin D in reducing risk of COVID-19 includes that the outbreak occurred in winter, a time when 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) concentrations are lowest; that the number of cases in the Southern Hemisphere near the end of summer are low; that vitamin D deficiency has been found to contribute to acute respiratory distress syndrome; and that case-fatality rates increase with age and with chronic disease comorbidity, both of which are associated with lower 25(OH)D concentration.

Blacks metabolize Vitamin D differently from whites. In the past, Vitamin D has always been examined as a marker of bone health. The big mystery for researchers was that blacks appeared to be Vitamin D deficient, yet they had excellent bone health.

It turns out that the tests were measuring one form of Vitamin D that’s beneficial to bone health in whites but that the same tests were missing that bone health in blacks utilizes a different form of the vitamin. All of this ties into the fact that black people, because they have more melanin thanks to the intense sun in equatorial regions, absorb different subsets of Vitamin D. (This article explains what’s going on in greater detail.)

The big question now is whether the same form of Vitamin D that contributes to bone health in blacks also serves as an immune system booster. At a guess, it may not because blacks who are deficient in the standard measure of Vitamin D are significantly more likely to have Type 2 diabetes. Their bones are getting a boost, but the rest of them still needs to have more Vitamin D.

It’s all well and good to virtue signal about racism and Wuhan virus, but it’s more helpful to look at whether blacks have enough Vitamin D to give their immune systems a little extra help.