How many colds and bouts of bronchitis do you have in any given winter? Two? Three? Or are you one of those people who gets over one cold just to come down with the next?
Are you envious of those who don’t ever seem to get sick? What if I told you the difference could be in your blood? AND that it’s something EASY to change?
Turns out taking a vitamin D supplement reduces the risk of acute respiratory infections! I’ve written about vitamin D before. This nutrient has a lot of health benefits that we’re just starting to understand. It helps keep bones strong. It has mental health benefits. Vitamin D levels are linked to the risk for multiple sclerosis. We really don’t understand everything about how vitamin D works.
Researchers in the UK wanted to know if there was a link between vitamin D levels and risk of colds and flu. Specifically, they wanted to know if vitamin D supplements helped prevent respiratory infections.
Last year their study was published in the British Medical Journal. They analyzed 25 other papers involving over 11,000 people to see if there was evidence that vitamin D supplements protect against respiratory infection.
They found that people who took vitamin D supplements did have a lower risk of acute respiratory infection, but the effect was pretty modest. Overall, those who took vitamin D supplements had a 40.3% risk of acute respiratory infection, while those who didn’t had a 42.2% risk. That means you have to treat 53 people to keep one person URI-free. (The rest either would have been URI free without the supplement, or would have still gotten respiratory infections in spite of the supplement.)
Not a big effect, right? Well let’s look deeper, OK? The authors looked at those who were deficient to begin with, having a blood level less than 25 nmol/L, and found that with supplementation the risk dropped from 55% to 40.5%. Your number needed to treat dropped from 53 to 7!
The authors also wanted to know if it mattered how you took your vitamin D. In Europe apparently it’s common to give a huge dose (>30,000 IU) every once in awhile, called bolus dosing. In the US we usually dose daily or weekly instead.
The study found that bolus dosing was NOT effective, and if you just looked at the studies that gave the vitamin D supplements on a daily or weekly schedule the effect was quite dramatic.
Those who started with low vitamin D levels saw their risk of upper respiratory infections drop from 59.8% to 31.5%. (NNT=3.5) That is a huge impact! The fact that correcting deficiency had such a big effect is good evidence that this is real and not just statistical fancy footwork or a coincidence.
They also found a big drop, 46.2% to 33.6%, in children aged 1-16 years who were supplemented with vitamin D. (NNT=8) Since kids in school are exposed to germs all the time, this reduction is very important.
How can we use this information? If you live in northern Ohio (or anywhere north of 40 degrees north latitude) you ARE vitamin D deficient unless you are taking a supplement. So everyone in Cleveland needs to take a supplement all year ’round. You also should have your levels checked periodically by your doctor or health practitioner to make sure you’re taking enough of a supplement, because some people need more than others.
I prefer to have my patients take their vitamin D every day rather than once per week. It is easier to remember to take something every day, just make it part of your morning routine. The best dose I’ve found is 2000-3000 units daily. What is in your multivitamin is NOT enough.
While taking a vitamin D supplement is helpful, there’s more to staying healthy and warding off colds and flu than taking vitamins. Make sure you’re washing your hands regularly. Drink plenty of fresh clean water, get enough sleep, and watch your stress levels. Stress depresses the immune system so if you’re feeling overwhelmed make sure to beef up your self-care routine!
If you’re wondering how to get enough vitamin D, please check out Shaklee’s Vita D3. It’s an inexpensive way to add insurance for heart, bone AND immune health! If you’re not already a Shaklee family member, why not click this link to get your personalized health assessment? There’s no cost and no commitment, just individual recommendations for diet and lifestyle changes (and smart supplementation of course) to meet your health goals.
I have so many friends and patients suffering cold after cold this winter. Now you have one more tool in the toolbox to keep you well!
QUESTION: Do you take vitamin D every day?