Vitamin D supplements more likely to prevent respiratory infections than flu vaccine

The research on vitamin D providing bone health benefits is consistently conclusive. The research on using vitamin D to prevent respiratory infections has been more mixed.

So, to get a more definitive answer, a team of researchers at Queen Mary University of London decided to take a look at pooled data from 25 separate trials.

The team reviewed data specifically on respiratory tract infections, which covers a wide range of illnesses from a sniffle to flu to pneumonia.

Overall, the study said one person would be spared infection for every 33 taking vitamin D supplements.

That is more effective than flu vaccination, which needs to be administered to 40 people to prevent one case. (You can read about that previous research at the Cochrane Review here.)

It fairness, it should be noted that the Queen Mary study was looking at all infections, not just flu. And the flu—which the flu vaccinations are supposed to prevent—is far more serious than the common cold.

At the same time, it should be noted that vaccinations come with the possibility of serious side effects, while vitamin D supplements do not.

(Note that some research suggests that over-supplementing vitamin D can cause spikes in calcium in the blood, which, in turn, causes heart and kidney problems. However, that research falls apart when studies use whole food supplements to provide the vitamin D.)

One of the researchers, Professor Adrian Martineau, summed it up this way: “Assuming a United Kingdom population of 65 million, and that 70% have at least one acute respiratory infection each year, then daily or weekly vitamin D supplements will mean 3.25 million fewer people would get at least one acute respiratory infection a year.”

The UK’s public health overseer Public Health England already advises everyone to take vitamin D supplements in autumn and winter for the sake of healthy bones and muscles. But now there are calls for fortifying foods with vitamin D—as is done the United States—for the benefit of fighting colds.

And this includes the researchers from the Queen Mary study.

According to Professor Martineau: “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.”

This suggestion has detractors, though… including the author of this post.

Here’s why:

Though encouraging a greater intake of vitamin D is a good thing, fortifying food with vitamin D creates its own set of problems. For starters, when government mandates the fortification of foods, food manufacturers utilize the cheapest source they can get their hands on.

Think chemical-based cheap vitamins mashed together in a factory in China.

Click image to learn more about Whole Food Multi Complete.

Some of us don’t want that stuff in our diet. When we do choose to supplement, we want quality food-based vitamins.

Secondly, when the populace is told the processed foods they are consuming are “fortified,” they tend to feel they are being healthy. Hence, they continue to not consume the healthier option of higher-nutrition un-processed, un-packaged foods.

So, rather than mandating fortification of foods that don’t naturally contain vitamin D, why not encourage the consumption of wholesome vitamin D foods in the first place?

Another valuable kernel of knowledge gained from the Queen Mary research was the discovery that greater benefits were realized by those taking pills daily or weekly, rather than in monthly “super-doses.”

Keep this in mind when you embark on your own supplementing regimen. Consistent daily supplementing works best.

Sources: BBC News, British Medical Journal, Cochrane Review.