A promising study in Pediatrics found that making sure kids have sufficient Vitamin D during winter's darkest months may decease the incidence of acute respiratory tract infections by 50%.
PROBLEM: Vitamin D (the "sunshine vitamin") is known to be important in developing and strengthening bones, but it may also have positive immunological benefits. It's naturally produced by the body in response to sunlight, so people tend to have lower levels of vitamin D in northern regions (where winter days are shortest). This study assesses the vitamin's role in protecting children from acute respiratory tract infections (ARIs, AKA colds) -- and tests whether supplements are an effective preventative measure for individuals with vitamin D deficiencies.
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METHODOLOGY: The sample population consisted of schoolchildren in Mongolia, a country known for its harsh, dark winters and concurrent vitamin D deficiencies. Blood tests administered prior to the double-blind experimental period confirmed that the kids already had low levels of vitamin D. From January to March, the 143 children's daily glasses of milk were fortified with 300 IU of vitamin D (undetectable to their taste). One hundred four others received ordinary milk. Incidences of ARIs throughout the three-month period were reported by the children's parents.
RESULTS: The kids who drank the "special" milk had higher blood levels of vitamin D, as one would expect. This was indicated by their average blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, which, at 19 ng/mL, were not fully restored but nonetheless represented a significant increase over the control group, which maintained the initial baseline level of 7 ng/mL. These same children reported half as many incidences of ARIs, even when adjusting for age, gender, and "history of wheezing."