Thursday 16 February 2017

Will Vitamin D supplements protect me against colds and flu?

Vitamin D supplements are often combined with
calcium as a treatment for osteoporosis
No one likes getting respiratory tract infections such as colds. There is interesting news that a wide-ranging study shows that vitamin D supplements can reduce the risk of getting colds and flu, particularly in those with severe vitamin D deficiency.

This is encouraging, especially as it isn't based on a single small trial. However, it is worth repeating once piece of the report: '... 33 people would need to take vitamin D supplements to prevent one acute respiratory tract infection.' That's for ordinary folk - for those with severe deficiencies, it's only four people taking the supplement to get one prevention.

So there does seem to be an effect, particularly if you are in that deficient group. As we get most of our vitamin D from sunlight, that's most likely to be people who avoid exposure to the sun, or who live in countries with low levels of sunlight in winter.

Even so, it's best not to get too excited. Assuming your vitamin D levels are average, rather than extremely low, bear in mind that the chances are high that taking the supplement would not prevent you getting an acute infection. (The study doesn't not cover non-acute infections.) But this is one of the few examples suggesting that people who are generally healthy might benefit from vitamin supplements.

The study is published in the BMJ.

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