Are vitamin supplements really necessary? (Photographer: Steven Depolo).
Science

Vitamin D supplements as the new Flu Fighter

by Kat Pooprasert

New research uncovered that vitamin D supplements can significantly prevent the spread of respiratory infections like colds. In fact, in the UK, it could prevent more than 3 million cases of respiratory infections every year.

It is widely known that vitamin D is important for bone building and muscular health. Thus, it is important that we consume enough vitamin D to maintain a healthy body. However, due to the lack of sunlight especially during the winter months, vitamin D deficiency is quite a common phenomenon. The Public Health England has stated last year that people are not getting the recommended 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day from the winter sunshine. The benefits of vitamin D supplements have been debatable and research into the importance of taking them has been evolving.

A new study involving data from 25 clinical trials conducted in 14 different countries has shown that vitamin D supplements can help prevent respiratory tract infections, especially among those who are vitamin D deficient.

Respiratory tract infections are highly prevalent and contagious. In fact, at least 70 per cent of the population gets infected with at least one respiratory infection in any given year. The most common respiratory tract infection is of course, the common cold, but other common infections also include bronchitis, pneumonia and sinus or ear infections.

The study concluded that vitamin D supplements can reduce the proportion of people getting these infections by around 12 per cent. Adrian Martineau, at Queen Mary, University of London who led the study described that “daily or weekly vitamin D supplements will mean 3.25 million fewer people would get at least one acute respiratory infection a year”.

While this new study favours vitamin D supplementation, it begs the question: should vitamin D supplements be a daily part of our healthcare routine? Martineau answers this by saying, “The bottom line is that the protective effects of Vitamin D supplementation are 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.”

Dr. Martineau implies that his team’s study highlights the importance of fortifying foods with vitamin D. Despite this, other scientists have argued that there is still not enough evidence to support vitamin D supplementation and its role in preventing diseases, except in those who are already at a high risk of a bone condition, known as osteomalacia.

Louis Levy from the Public Health England proposes that “we recommend that certain population groups take a daily 10 micrograms vitamin D supplement year round and everyone considers taking one during autumn and winter months to protect musculoskeletal health.”

Even if the results from the study is positive for vitamin D supplementation, Levy warns that the evidence on vitamin D and infections is still inconclusive saying that “this study does not provide sufficient evidence to support recommending vitamin D for reducing the risk of respiratory tract infections.”

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