Vitamin D not helpful for colds

By on November 7, 2012
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With tissues littering the floor, lights are dimmed, and chicken noodle soup cooling on the table, the mass of blankets occupying my couch moans and stirs. Cold and flu season has struck its first victim. My friend turned patient is trying to find the comforts of home in my dorm room as I try to play doctor and help her get well. My homeopathic nature suggests many non-medicated treatments, though a dash of vitamins C and D also comes to mind. This inclination however, may be based on nothing more than hearsay. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association states that vitamin D really doesn’t prevent or help in the fight against sicknesses.

Chicken noodle soup, a feel good remedy for the common cold. Freefoto.com

Vitamin D is a nutrient that is essential in overall health. It is essential in bone and heart health and can even be made in the body from sunlight. It was even thought to compound the immune boosting benefits of vitamin C. I believed it to be true which is why when I felt a cold coming on, I’d boost my intake of C and D3. Vitamin D3’s power over colds and respiratory immunity was put to the test by researchers from New Zealand over the course of 18 months in 2010 and 2011.

The vitamin’s efficiency was analyzed against the incidence of upper respiratory infections in two test groups. In a double-blind placebo controlled study, one group was given a dosage of vitamin D and another given a placebo. The administration of vitamin D (called serum 25-HD in the report) consistently kept participants’ vitamin D levels much higher than the baseline that the study measured against. Participants recorded any symptoms of an upper respiratory infection and were monitored by researchers. Monthly check-ups were required and throughout the study only three appointments were missed.

At the end of the study, the incidence of upper respiratory infections, length of sickness, symptoms, and days of work missed were tabulated and compared between groups. The average occurrence of infection was 3.7% in the group that received vitamin D and just 3.8% in the placebo group, a statistically insignificant difference. The average duration of sickness was 12 days for both groups. Although the levels of vitamin D were much higher in the first group than in the second, their resistance to infection was not.

So more vitamins, particularly vitamin D, might not be the cure-all for cold and flu season but there are many things outside of the doctor’s office that students can do to stay well. The Center for Disease Control suggests that college students, especially those living in the dorms, keep their personal space to themselves and sanitary. That could mean not sharing drinks, washing your hands, and picking up a can of Lysol during the next trip to the store. Eating well and resting almost go without being said, but those are probably the two best things that students can do. A balanced diet provides healthy balance of vitamins rather than the too little too late of a vitamin boost. Rest strengthens the immune system in a way no pill can and gives the body a chance to produce more infection fighting agents.

Ethan Gissendaner
Staff Writer
ethang@uab.edu

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=736036264 Deb Ray

    I have copd. I have been taking vitamin D for 5 years. I use a much bigger dose that the RDA of the US because it’s too low. I have not had a respiratory infection or serious cold since I began supplementing. Try to tell me vitamin D hasn’t helped. They key question here is “What dosage did they take?”

  • Brian

    What was the vitamin D levels for each group at the beginning of the study and the end? What was the dosage given to each participant?

  • Sten Björsell

    5,000 iu per day in the winter has given our family virtual immunity to colds and flu.
    The difference is astounding. Never in bed anymore and no antibioics or flushot.
    Before each one 1- 3 times per year.
    Too low dose – like 400 IU per day, given to all healthy young people with sufficient D from start is likely to show little or no difference.
    But if participants were seriously deficient from start it would on the other hand be likely to make a big difference! Since studies are so easily “engineered” to give “required results, the most important question is who sponsored this study? The sponsor may be hard to find as usually a university is hired to do the study.

  • Anonymous

    Next time you write an article, Ethan, you might consider saying “XX ng/ml for subjects versus YY ng/ml for controls” rather than simply “…much higher than baseline…”. That way those of us reading your article might have more than your unsupported opinion about what constitutes “much higher”. As is, I have no doubt that the study did not ever reach appropriately elevated levels to be meaningful.
    By the way, vitamin D is absolutely nothing like vitamin C. If you will read labels, vitamin C is taken, often, in near-gram quantities, whereas vitamin D, a corticosteroid, is taken in micrograms. It is a hormone. Also, it seems misleading to say “it is even made in the body by sunlight.” While true, it is more correct to note that the only non-supplement way to get even close to a reasonable level is through sunlight. Food has never been an important source of Vitamin D.

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