Robust evidence is in: vitamin D pills protect against colds and flu

Source RTE 2 Facebook

After looking at data from more than 11,000 participants, it observed that those who took regular supplements were better protected against infection.

Our primary source of vitamin D is sunlight on the skin, though it can be obtained through a few foods, such as oily fish and fortified dairy products.

Among participants with baseline vitamin D deficiency (less than 25 nmol/L) a strong protective effect was seen (adjusted odds ratio 0.58, 95% CI 0.40-0.82, number needed to treat =8) in 538 participants in 14 studies (P=0.002), they wrote in BMJ.

To resolve these discrepancies, an worldwide team of researchers - led by Queen Mary University of London Professor Adrian Martineau - set out to assess the overall effect of vitamin D supplements on risk of acute respiratory tract infection, and to identify factors modifying this effect.

In the US, vitamin D is already added to milk, however, a 2010 study found that 42 percent of American adults were deficient in the vitamin, which is also needed to strengthen bones.

Technically, two different vitamins - D2, which mainly comes from supplements and food, and D3, which comes from the sun - the fat-soluble vitamin D works in our bodies to help build up bone strength. It assessed the overall effect of supplementation on the incidence of acute respiratory tract infections.

Those who had low vitamin D levels before they started supplementation got the biggest benefit: For people with the most significant vitamin D deficiencies (blood levels below 10 mg/dl), taking a supplement cut their risk of respiratory infection in half.

The researchers concluded that these results add to the body of evidence that fortifying widely eaten foods with vitamin D would improve public health.

These, it says, should be taken for improved bone and muscle health.

Do you need a vitamin D supplement?

According to recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, most adults need about 600 IU (international units) of vitamin D per day while the elderly (over 70 years) are advised to intake 800 IUs per day. The only health problem that can be prevented by vitamin D supplements is osteomalacia.

Respiratory tract infection refers to any infection of the throat, airways, sinuses or lungs, with the common cold being the most widespread of the illnesses.

However, the results fit with the observation that colds and flu are most common in winter and spring, when levels of vitamin D are at their lowest. In the United States, for example, milk is fortified with vitamin D.

In order to show the benefits of this vitamin, researchers took multiple trials.

And in 2014, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said there's not enough evidence of benefit for all people to be routinely tested for vitamin D deficiency.

Professor Louis Levy, head of nutrition science at PHE, said: "The evidence on vitamin D and infection is inconsistent and this study does not provide sufficient evidence to support recommending vitamin D for reducing the risk of respiratory tract infections".

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