FTF verdict: Can Vitamin D pills ‘stop colds and flu’?

The papers are awash with headlines suggesting that vitamin D supplements could prevent frequent colds and flu episodes. This is following a recent (2016) systematic review and meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal involving over 11,000 participants. It looked at the effects of varying doses of Vitamin D supplements on the incidences of acute respiratory tract infections.

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What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. Vitamin D is present in limiting amounts in eggs 🍳, oily fish  🍣  and fortified products such as spreads and breakfast cereals . We can also make some vitamin D by a reaction that occurs when UV light from the sun reacts with our skin.  

Why is Vitamin D so important?

It is needed for healthy bones and muscles 💪🏻. Many subgroups of the population are commonly deficient in Vitamin D, and low levels can lead to brittle bones and rickets 👎🏻. It is also important for a healthy immune system.

What did the study find?

  • An overall protective effect of vitamin D supplementation against acute respiratory tract infection

  • The best results were seen in people who received daily or weekly vitamin D supplements, and the protective effects against acute respiratory tract infection were strongest in those who were already vitamin D deficient at the start of the study

  • The results support the government’s recommendations last year (SACN report) that people over four years old consume 10 micrograms of vitamin D per day.

  • In the future, public health measures such as fortifying foods with vitamin D might be encouraged- particularly in areas where vitamin D deficiency is common

The results are promising, however it is important to remember that (like most studies), there are also some limitations in this study design. You can read more about these via the link to the study above.

Things to consider:

  Vitamin D is important for health and promotes a healthy immune system

  We should all be consuming 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day- many of us aren’t blessed with frequent sun, so the UK government recommends taking a daily supplement

  It is likely that companies and supermarkets will use this study and recent government recommendations as a marketing ploy-
Do not be lured in by fancy marketing- an own brand supermarket supplement is likely to be just as good as a branded one
Supplements should be seen as an addition to the diet rather than a replacement. Foods such as oily fish still have many other health benefits which shouldn’t be undermined!
20 minutes of sun exposure per day will also help your body to produce vitamin D- just be sure to wear sun protection after those 20 minutes.

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