Vitamin D 'Wards Off Colds and Flu'

New research suggests that vitamin D could be key to warding off respiratory conditions.

The study, carried out by scientists at Queen Mary University of London, found that that vitamin D supplementation cut the proportion of participants experiencing at least one acute respiratory tract infection by 12%.

The study, released this week, examined data from 11,000 participants, all under the age of 95. Monitored through 25 unique clinical trials, the participants were chosen from 14 different countries that lack regular sunlight in the winter and spring months.

In theory, this means that taking vitamin D could help 3 million people living in the UK fight off respiratory conditions.

Cold and flu prevention

The most typical respiratory ailment is, of course, the common cold, but more serious respiratory conditions include ear infections, pneumonia and bronchitis. In the UK today, respiratory problems account for 300,000 hospital admissions and 35,000 deaths every year, with 70% of the population developing at least one acute respiratory infection every winter or spring, typically when people are not getting the recommended 10 micrograms of Vitamin D from sunlight per day.  With a quarter of the British public meeting with their GP every year with such related ailments, it is thought that if the admissions to hospital in relation to respiratory problems could drop by an estimated 12%, it would mean good news for the general health of the UK.

Is fortification with vitamin D the answer?

So should we be popping vitamin D? Public Health England says they have no plans to recommend supplementation for everyone yet, although they do suggest certain groups should be taking vitamin D. These include:

  • Adults and children over the age of one should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D, particularly during autumn and winter.
  • People who have a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency – such as those who do not go outside, or always cover their bodies and faces -  are being advised to take a supplement all year round.
  • People with dark skin, from African, African-Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds, may need more vitamin D than they can get from sunlight in the summer. They should consider taking a supplement all year round as well.

Many health experts believe there is a role for supplementing with vitamin D. Although vitamin D naturally occurs in some foods such as eggs, oily fish and some red meats, Professor Martineau who helped to conduct the recent BMJ study argues more vitamin D is needed in our everyday diets.

He says: “Vitamin D fortification of foods [in other countries] provides a steady, low-level intake of vitamin D that has virtually eliminated profound vitamin D deficiency in several countries.” Indeed, fortification of vitamin D into food and drink, such as bread and milk to help tackle high levels of insufficiency in the UK could be the answer for the future. Though for now, aside from gaining small amounts naturally occurring in some foods, supplements seem to be the most direct way for people living in the UK to receive a noticeable amount of vitamin D daily, when sitting out in the sun is not an option.

Vitamin D Expert

The recent study will be welcomed by John Christofides, a Principal Clinical Scientist with the Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, who is one of the UK’s leading vitamin D specialists. He states: “It [vitamin D] is probably one of the very few vitamins where scientific evidence conclusively shows the benefit of boosting our Vitamin D blood levels with supplements, especially during the winter months when natural sun stimulation is inadequate.”


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