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Vitamin D supplements cut incidence of the common cold, study says

August 20, 2012|By Thomas H. Maugh II | Los Angeles Times
  • Children who received vitamin D supplements had 50% fewer colds in winter.
Children who received vitamin D supplements had 50% fewer colds in winter. (National Library of Medicine/National…)

For kids who get a lot of colds during the winter, a boost in vitamin D levels may be just what the doctor ordered, researchers reported Monday. Supplementing vitamin D intake for children who were deficient halved the number of colds the children contracted, a team reported in the journal Pediatrics.

Observational studies have suggested that low vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of colds. The new study is apparently the first to show that supplementing children's intake of the vitamin can reduce their risk of colds.

Dr. Carlos A. Camargo Jr. of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and his colleagues studied 247 third- and fourth-graders in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, as part of a larger study called the Blue Sky Study. They picked the city because the combination of an extremely cold climate and the high latitude restricts the amount of time children play outside in the sun. Sun shining on the skin is a major source of vitamin D. Moreover, foods and milk in Mongolia are not routinely supplemented with vitamin D.

At the beginning of the study, the children had an average vitamin D level in their blood of about 7 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml). Any level below 20 ng/ml is considered a deficiency. About half of the children (104) received normal milk with no vitamin D and the rest received daily milk fortified with 300 international units (IU) of vitamin D. After three months, blood levels of the vitamin in the control group were unchanged, while the level in the group who received supplements rose to an average of 19 ng/ml. At the end of the three months, the children's parents were interviewed about the incidence of upper respiratory infections -- that is, colds. The children who received vitamin D supplements had 50% fewer colds.

 Ulaanbaatar lies at about the same latitude as Maine and Washington in the United States, so it might seem that the results are not generally applicable. But government studies show that about 20% of U.S. children under the age of 12 have a vitamin D deficiency; the proportion rises to 50% in African American children. Researchers worry that the incidence may continue to climb because kids spend so much time indoors with video games and other pastimes.

The study was funded by an anonymous foundation; the vitamin D was donated by the Tishcon Corp. The authors said they had no conflicts of interest.

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