Vitamin D and Me: The Little Pill That Made My COVID-19 World Stop Spinning
To help my chances in preventing COVID-19, I started taking vitamin D and regained some control over my health.
Between a graduate degree in molecular and cell biology and nearly 20 years’ experience in the research field, I hate to admit that it took no more than a few texts from my friend with a medical degree and a quick Google search for me to start popping vitamin D daily. I started doing this in 2021, not long after vaccines became available but before I was eligible to receive one, and I’ve continued to take one ever since.
The link between vitamin D deficiency—highly prevalent in my fellow dark-complexioned people—and higher incidence and severity of COVID-19 when compared to our white counterparts in the U.S. was hard to brush off. Even harder were the numerous scientific papers showing a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and the increase in COVID-19 infections, especially across races. The scientist in me scrutinized the data and understood that these patterns didn’t prove causation, but the exhausted working mother of two toddlers just needed some sense that I could control my own fate.
I told myself that it was for my own benefit to get myself out of the deficiency range, a goal everyone should have independent of a raging pandemic outside your doorstep. It’s not like I was about to down a bottle of Clorox or take a horse dewormer.
The Pandemic Changed My Entire Lifestyle
The coronavirus tipped the world off its axis in 2020, and I got whiplash hearing about all the do’s and don’ts about the virus. The message went from “masks are ineffective” to “strap on two” and, then, the unforgettable suggestion to ingest bleach by then-President Trump. Ordering grocery delivery along with wiping down anything that entered the house became routine until I learned that surface contamination was no longer a worry. But I still worried.
For the first few months of the pandemic, I was trapped in my white-carpeted, two-bedroom rental apartment with my Energizer bunnies: a one- and three-year-old. Technically, I was employed as a full-time scientist, but the constant background of kids yelling during my Zoom meetings led to an unspoken understanding that I had little bandwidth to work, which was nearly impossible to do without a lab anyway.
My husband attended meetings from the dining room table, which also sat in our open-space living area. Depending on the ever-changing restrictions, sometimes my only time spent out of the apartment was on our balcony—and later to retrieve the assortment of toys tossed off the same balcony. I never wanted to be a stay-at-home mother, and this dark period solidified those feelings. I felt my identity as a functional, competent working mother slip away and be replaced with an exhausted, short-tempered, daily drinking blob. My mental health plummeted like so many, but it twisted with the news that lab personnel were returning to work in June 2020. I yearned for a taste of normalcy but felt conflicted about increasing my family’s potential exposure by going onsite and letting someone else care for my children.
I needed someone to tell me what to do, but no one did. I couldn’t imagine that all measures of control that I exhibited—from the masks to groceries—would be completely unknown and that missteps by others could exponentially compound once I reentered the world. The chaos and uncertainty confined within my apartment’s four walls were about to spew out, and I couldn’t do anything about it.
Taking Vitamin D Pills Gave Me Some Agency in the Chaos
After those hellish three months, I was back in the lab anywhere from three to five days a week, pipetting my solutions and spinning my plates in a machine with a centrifugal force capable of moving plates at 6,000 miles per hour in the name of science. Masks became part of my daily work attire, and I learned how to read my colleagues’ expressions from the way creases formed around their eyes or forehead in response to a comment. I embraced my assortment of masks—it felt like armor—but I knew it could be pierced.
It was during that time that my circle of predominantly Black and brown friends started talking about the sunshine vitamin. They discussed how much vitamin D they were taking and which form was the best for boosting immunity. Practicing medical professionals in a WhatsApp group shared stories that made the statistics of the Black and brown communities hit harder by COVID-19 no longer feel like numbers. We could be those numbers and those stories.
Being at risk for vitamin D deficiency was a lifelong curse due to sunscreen and spending more time indoors. However, the melanin in our skin not only provided our rich color but blocked vitamin D from forming. So, after a flurry of messages, I headed into Target to scan the vitamin aisle and pick up another bit of armor I could wear on the inside.
During a time where the world was spinning out of control, the only thing I could do to make it stop was to take control of my own health, even if it was in the shape of a pill. While I may never know if that little pill changed the trajectory of my physical health, I know for certain it set me on the right path for my mental health.