Vitamin D is commonly thought to help boost the immune system(1), but due to lack of exercise and limited sun exposure, those who need it most – hospitalized patients in critical care units – often have insufficient levels of this important nutrient.
Now, scientists are saying that a megadose of vitamin D could be just what the doctor ordered to help cut down the duration of hospital stays, helping patients recover and get out of the hospital faster.
Researchers from Emory University were familiar with the existing knowledge about vitamin D deficiency, so they decided to put it to the test in a clinical trial.
Separating 31 participants into three groups, the researchers gave one group high doses of vitamin D and one group a lower dose of vitamin D, with the third group receiving a placebo.
“These dosages were significantly higher than normal daily doses and were intended to quickly restore vitamin D levels in patients who have low levels,” said researcher Jenny Han of Emory University School of Medicine(2).
What the trial revealed was that the length of time spent in the hospital was shorter the higher the dose of vitamin D the patient received. The difference – an average of 36 days spent in the hospital for the placebo as opposed to 18 days in the hospital with the high dose of vitamin D – was large enough to be statistically significant.
“These data can inform the design of a larger, adequately powered randomized controlled trial on the efficacy of high-dose vitamin D3 on host immunity and other indices associated with recovery,” the study concludes(3).
The Significance Of Vitamin D
This isn’t the first time vitamin D has been studied for its potential in preventing infection and aiding swifter recoveries in patients with infectious diseases. A 2010 systemic review concluded that:
“Recent studies have described a high prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency and overt vitamin D deficiency in human populations worldwide… Several of the studies reviewed in this report build on existing preclinical research in vitamin D immunology, which demonstrates a likely connection among vitamin D repletion, susceptibility to infection, and clinical outcomes in a variety of infectious processes.”(4)
Other studies have highlighted the issue of vitamin D deficiency as significant in the development of diabetic retinopathy(5), Parkinson and Alzheimer’s disease(6), and even in the management of epilepsy(7).
In other words, vitamin D deficiency has widespread implications for a number of disparate conditions.
Researchers hope that this most recent study paves the way to a more comprehensive understanding of vitamin D’s role in our immune system, and potential therapeutic uses of vitamin D for critical care patients. After all, shorter hospital stays aren’t just good for patients – they cut hospital and healthcare costs significantly as well.