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Exploring research: How people with diabetes can reduce their risk of getting seriously ill from coronavirus

From getting the coronavirus vaccine to exploring the research on vitamin D supplements, we look at what people with diabetes can do to reduce their risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus.

A picture of Faye, our Senior Research Communications Officer and the author of our series about the key things to know about coronavirus and diabetes research

Written by Faye Riley PhD, our Senior Research Communications Officer. This article is part of our series on the key things to know about coronavirus and diabetes research.  

Getting the coronavirus vaccine 

The most important way people living with diabetes can lower their risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus is to avoid catching the virus in the first place. A vaccine is the most effective way to prevent infection, and that’s why we strongly encourage you to get the vaccine when you’re offered it.

We’ve got more information about the coronavirus vaccines, including the latest results from the trials and guidance about when people with diabetes can expect to get vaccinated.

Following advice about social distancing 

It’s also important to continue to follow government advice about social distancing. You can find out more about the rules in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but everybody should continue to: 

  • wash their hands regularly, for 20 seconds 
  • wear a face covering 
  • stay 2 meters away from people outside your household. 

Find out more about the latest coronavirus updates.

Managing your weight and blood glucose (sugar) levels 

Some coronavirus risk factors, like our age and ethnicity, are factors we can’t change. But there are other risk factors that we can try to have some control over.

Research has shown that having a high HbA1c or a high bodyweight can increase your risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus. That’s why it’s important to work with your diabetes team to try to bring your blood sugar levels and weight into a healthy range.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet

You may have heard claims about certain foods or supplements that have been said to help with fighting off infections. Whilst we know many different nutrients help the immune system to work, we also know that there’s no one particular food, nutrient or supplement that will boost immunity or prevent us picking up infections.

The key to maintaining a healthy immune system is to eat a healthy, balanced diet, and we’ve got more information to help you do this. 

Coronavirus and vitamin D 

Vitamin D attracted attention throughout the pandemic after some studies suggested there may be a link between lower levels of vitamin D and a greater risk of catching coronavirus, or becoming seriously ill with it.

But the evidence here is really mixed. Some studies haven’t found a connection, while the studies that have can’t tell us if vitamin D is directly responsible for lowering your risk of getting the virus.

To help find some answers, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), Public Health England and the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition decided to take a look at all the research. In their review, they concluded that there’s not enough evidence so far to suggest that vitamin D could help to prevent or fight coronavirus. 

Taking vitamin D supplements

Although we aren’t advised to take vitamin D supplements to protect against coronavirus, the government does still recommend that everyone should consider taking a supplement of 10 micrograms a day between October and early March. This is because vitamin D is important for bone and muscle health, and during the darker winter months it can be difficult to get the vitamin D you need from sunlight.  

The government also continue to recommend that people from an African, Caribbean or South Asian background should continue to take a daily vitamin D supplement all throughout the year. This is because people with darker skin tones have more melanin, which lowers the skin’s ability to make vitamin D from the sunlight. 

This advice about taking vitamin D supplements is particularly important this year as you may have been spending more time indoors than usual. It is also really important for people who have been shielding this year due to coronavirus, and for those living in care homes, as they may have been indoors over the spring and summer too.

For this reason, the government is offering a free 4 month supply of vitamin D supplements for all adults who are in the clinically extremely vulnerable group. If you’re in the group you should receive a letter inviting you to opt-in, or you can register online.

Vitamin D is also found in a small number of foods, including oily fish, red meat and egg yolks. Including these foods in your diet can help you get some of the vitamin D you need, but it is difficult to get enough from food alone. That’s why the government recommend taking supplements too.

More things to know about coronavirus research

We know that you may have more questions about coronavirus and diabetes, so we’ve taken a look at the research to bring you the key things to know. Find out more about: 

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