Let’s Not Deny Anyone’s Right to Health

You know these words, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I interpret that to mean all women and men have the right to be healthy, which I argue is a foundational element of happiness. Sadly, the richest nation in the world continues to spend more money per person on health care, with the poorest outcomes among any other high-income country, according to a January 2020 report by The Commonwealth Fund.

One can argue the reasons for this disparity, but these discussions have resulted in no change and no commitment to true prevention strategies. We know true prevention includes more than testing and screening. It includes nutrient measurement and supplementation; monitoring of diet and sleep habits; and exercise and wellness strategies, all of which combine to support a healthy immune system that can help fight off the underlying conditions associated with contracting COVID-19. And for a brief moment, with the onset of COVID-19 and an international pandemic, we heard conventional health experts raise the flag for a nutrient for which 89% of Americans are woefully deficient: vitamin D.

In March, former CDC Chief Dr. Tom Frieden was quoted on Fox News affirming that “vitamin D supplementation reduces the risk of respiratory infection, regulates cytokine production and can limit the risk of other viruses such as influenza. A respiratory infection can result in cytokine storms—a vicious cycle in which our inflammatory cells damage organs throughout the body—which increase mortality for those with COVID-19.” In May, Dr. JoAnn Manson, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, stated in a video presentation on Medscape about the “emerging and growing evidence that vitamin D status may be relevant to the risk of developing COVID-19 infection and to the severity of the disease.” She added that “vitamin D has an immune modulating effect and can lower inflammation.” Dr. Manson even went so far to suggest people increase vitamin D consumption from the recommended 600 IU to 1000-2000 IUs per day. The tide, however, turned quickly. On June 1, Dr. Manson and her Harvard colleague, Dr. Pieter Cohen, were both quoted as saying they strongly discourage people from getting a vitamin D test right now. And, here is where the inequality shows its face.

Vitamin D deficiency is more prevalent among African Americans than other Americans and, in North America, most young, healthy black people do not achieve what scientists consider an optimal blood serum level, defined as 30 ng/ml by the Institutes of Medicine at any time of year. According to the APM Research Lab, black Americans have a COVID-19 death rate 2.3 times that of white and Asian Americans, who have the lowest death rates. Adjust the data for age differences, and the death rate for black people is 3.7 times higher than white people. A Washington Post analysis shows that counties that are majority-black have three times the rate of infections and almost six times the rate of deaths as counties where white residents are in the majority. In Michigan, African Americans, who represent 14% of the population, account for more than 33% of cases and 40% of deaths. Similar statistics are mirrored in Chicago where 70% of COVID-19 related deaths were black residents, a rate six times higher than that of white residents. Indigenous people, Pacific Islanders and Latinos don’t fare much better.

Health status is both personal and systemic. Health status can be dependent on your genetic predisposition, and is dependent on your access to health care, level of stress, physical location, family income, availability of quality food, and more.  A vast myriad of social, economic and environmental considerations have been documented to affect health status, including nutrient deficiency. Consider the body of research on the health and immune system benefits of vitamin D. Retrospective reviews are showing death rates due to COVID-19 diminish to zero when vitamin D levels hit 34 ng/ml. Scientists have documented that achieving a vitamin D level between 40-60 ng/ml will enable you to achieve the full health benefits vitamin D has to offer.

Image courtesy of Organic & Natural Health Association.

There is no time for despair, only opportunity to get this message into the hands of the public and the people most at risk for COVID-19. That’s why Organic & Natural health has taken the lead on developing a new consumer education campaign called, “Get On My Level.” We’re leveraging mass media and social media through a grassroots campaign to get this vital message out to the people who need to hear it the most. You too can help us take effective action. First, find out what your vitamin D level is now before the onset of the annual cold and flu season, and make sure you fall between the ranges of 40-60 ng/ml. Then encourage your customers and community to do the same. Want to join our cause at “Get On My Level”? We’ve made it easy for you to help your community and its most at-risk members to achieve a healthy vitamin D level. To participate as a supporter, simply connect with me at khoward@organicandnatural.org or share the information at www.powerofd.org. It’s a great way to be a part of the solution and the movement to ensure equity for all.

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Karen Howard, CEO and Executive Director of Organic & Natural Health Association is a visionary and results-focused leader who has spent more than 30 years working with Congress, state legislatures and healthcare organizations to develop innovative healthcare policy and programs. She has held a variety of executive positions, including serving as professional staff for a Congressional committee, and has policy expertise in the diverse areas of integrative and complementary medicine, managed care, healthcare technology and mental health. An advocate at heart, she has worked to strategically advance the mission and vision of organizations through effective advocacy and strong collaboration. Prior to Organic & Natural Health, Howard served as executive director for both the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Schools. During her nearly 10-year tenure at AANP, she built a sustainable infrastructure, significantly improved financial performance, established a strong federal presence and supported multiple state association advocacy efforts for licensure. Also during this time, the naturopathic medicine profession established itself as a key component of comprehensive healthcare for the future. www.organicandnatural.org