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Vitamin D for the Common Cold

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Updated January 29, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

During cold season, many people take vitamin D supplements to help stave off sickness. While scientists have yet to prove that vitamin D supplements can prevent the common cold (sometimes referred to as an "upper respiratory tract infection"), some research shows that having higher a higher vitamin D level may correlate with a reduced risk of catching a cold.

Health Benefits of Vitamin D for the Common Cold

To date, few studies have tested the effectiveness of vitamin D supplements for prevention of the common cold. What's more, the existing research has yielded mixed results. For instance, a 2009 study published in Epidemiology and Infection found that vitamin D failed to decrease the incidence and severity of upper respiratory tract infections over a three-month period. In an experiment involving 162 adults, those given 2,000 IU of vitamin D in supplement form daily were no less likely to suffer colds than those assigned to a placebo.

However, a population study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine the same year suggests that maintaining optimal vitamin D levels may help fend off colds. Looking at data on 18,883 people, researchers found that those with the lowest vitamin D levels were about 40 percent more likely to report a recent respiratory infection (compared to those with the highest vitamin D levels). The study detected a particularly strong link between low vitamin D levels and respiratory infection risk among participants with a history of respiratory disorders (such as asthma).

Using Vitamin D for Cold Prevention

The currently available data does not support taking vitamin D supplements for this purpose, although this is an area of ongoing research. Maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D may offer a number of other health benefits. For instance, optimal vitamin D levels are important for keeping your bones strong and protecting against osteoporosis. For more help in fighting off the common cold, make sure to wash your hands frequently, follow a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and get sufficient sleep.

If you're considering the use of vitamin D supplements for cold prevention, or if you're concerned that your levels of vitamin D may be low, consult your primary care provider.

Sources

Bartley J. "Vitamin D, innate immunity and upper respiratory tract infection." J Laryngol Otol. 2010 May;124(5):465-9. Epub 2010 Jan 13.

Ginde AA, Mansbach JM, Camargo CA Jr. "Association between serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D level and upper respiratory tract infection in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey." Arch Intern Med. 2009 Feb 23;169(4):384-90.

Hughes DA, Norton R. "Vitamin D and respiratory health." Clin Exp Immunol. 2009 Oct;158(1):20-5.

Li-Ng M, Aloia JF, Pollack S, Cunha BA, Mikhail M, Yeh J, Berbari N. "A randomized controlled trial of vitamin D3 supplementation for the prevention of symptomatic upper respiratory tract infections." Epidemiol Infect. 2009 Oct;137(10):1396-404.

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