Vitamin D – the “sunshine vitamin” – is known to benefit bone and muscle health by promoting calcium absorption in the gut and maintains adequate serum calcium and phosphate concentrations to enable normal mineralization of bone. It is also needed for bone growth and bone remodeling by osteoblasts and osteoclasts. A major global study led by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) added one more benefit confirming Vitamin D’s role in protecting against acute respiratory infections including colds and flu.
The results, published in The BMJ, are based on a new analysis of raw data from around 11,000 participants in 25 clinical trials conducted in 14 countries including the UK, USA, Japan, India, Afghanistan, Belgium, Italy, Australia and Canada. The analysis of pooled raw data from each of the 10,933 trial participants has yielded the first definitive evidence that vitamin D protects against respiratory infections.
The analysis showed that the Vitamin D baseline level and supplementation schedule affect vitamin D’s protective effects with the effects being strongest in those who have the lowest vitamin D levels and when supplementation is given daily or weekly rather than in more widely spaced doses. Specifically, daily or weekly supplementation of vitamin D halved the risk of acute respiratory infection in people with the lowest baseline vitamin D levels, below 25 nanomoles per litre (nmol/L). People with higher baseline vitamin D levels also benefited, although the effect was more modest with 10 per cent risk reduction. Overall, the reduction in risk of acute respiratory infection induced by vitamin D was on a par with the protective effect of injectable flu vaccine against flu-like illnesses.
Previous studies have suggested that vitamin D may protect against respiratory infections by boosting levels of antimicrobial peptides — natural antibiotic-like substances — in the lungs. Results of the QMUL study fit with the observation that colds and flu are commonest in winter and spring, when levels of vitamin D are at their lowest. They may also explain why vitamin D protects against asthma attacks, which are commonly triggered by respiratory viruses.
So what’s the take home lesson? Taking vitamin D supplement on the regular basis could be a highly cost-effective way to protect you and your family against acute respiratory infections especially in wintertime, in addition to warding off the osteoporosis and supporting your teenager’s growth spur.
The study was conducted by a consortium of 25 investigators from 21 institutions worldwide and funded by the National Institute for Health Research.
Thanks for reading.
Adrian R Martineau, David A Jolliffe, Richard L Hooper, Lauren Greenberg, John F Aloia, Peter Bergman, Gal Dubnov-Raz, Susanna Esposito, Davaasambuu Ganmaa, Adit A Ginde, Emma C Goodall, Cameron C Grant, Christopher J Griffiths, Wim Janssens, Ilkka Laaksi, Semira Manaseki-Holland, David Mauger, David R Murdoch, Rachel Neale, Judy R Rees, Steve Simpson, Iwona Stelmach, Geeta Trilok Kumar, Mitsuyoshi Urashima, Carlos A Camargo. Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data. BMJ, 2017; i6583 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.i6583
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