Scientists have discovered that high doses of vitamin D reduce respiratory infections, which could help to reduce one of the leading causes of serious illness, debilitation and death among older people residing in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
The study, which was carried out by the University of Colorado, is the first to examine the impact of vitamin D on respiratory infections in nursing home residents. It looked at 107 patients with an average age of 84 over a 12 month period. Of those, 55 received high doses of vitamin D or 100,000 units monthly (averaging 3,300-4,300 units daily), and 52 received lower doses averaging between 400-1,000 units daily. The results showed a 40 percent reduction in acute respiratory illness among those people who took higher doses of vitamin D.
In older people the immune system is often impaired but vitamin D appears to reinforce it, improving the ability to fight infections. This finding could prevent illnesses like pneumonia, influenza and bronchitis and it may also prevent infections and exacerbations of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) like emphysema.
The study's lead author, Professor Adit Ginde, from the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said: “This is a potentially life-saving discovery. There is very little in a doctor's arsenal to battle acute respiratory infection (ARI), especially since most are viral infections where antibiotics don't work. But vitamin D seems able to potentially prevent these infections."
Professor Ginde cautioned that the study is not definitive proof that vitamin D can prevent ARI but it suggests that it can and at little risk to the patient. A larger trial is now required to confirm the findings.
The results of the study are published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.