Research at Queen Mary says supplements can really work
Taking vitamin D supplements could combat colds, flu and other respiratory conditions, according to new research. A study undertaken by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) showed that their impact could go beyond simply improving bone and muscle strength and could aid those who experience breathing difficulties.
Researchers suggested that this new evidence could go as far as to alter public health policy, with certain foods being fortified with vitamin D to tackle high levels of deficiency.
Professor Adrian Martineau from QMUL said: “Vitamin D fortification of foods provides a steady, low-level intake of vitamin D that has virtually eliminated profound vitamin D deficiency in several countries.
“By demonstrating this new benefit of vitamin D, our study strengthens the case for introducing food fortification to improve vitamin D levels in countries such as the UK where profound vitamin D deficiency is common.”
Known as “the sunshine vitamin”, vitamin D can boost the levels of natural, antibiotic-like substances in the lungs. Supplements could protect against asthma attacks, which are often brought on by respiratory viruses. They could also prove beneficial in winter and spring, when flu and colds are most common and vitamin D levels are generally lower.
The results of the study, published in the BMJ, were based on raw data taken from around 11,000 participants across 14 countries. While the effects of taking supplements varied, the research showed that, overall, the reduction in risk of acute respiratory infection induced by vitamin D was on a par with the protective effect of an injectable flu vaccine against “flu-like illnesses”.
“This major collaborative research effort has yielded the first definitive evidence that vitamin D really does protect against respiratory infections,” Professor Martineau said. “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.”
Colds and flu are the “commonest reason for GP consultations and days off work” while there were 2.65 million deaths from pneumonia worldwide in 2013. Furthermore, vitamin D supplementation is safe and inexpensive so its impact in reducing acute respiratory infections could prove cost-effective.
Professor Hywel Williams, director of the NIHR Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme, said the “interesting” results of such a large study means the issue requires “serious further debate”.