Published: 15-02-2017 16:13 | Updated: 16-02-2017 18:36

Vitamin D protects against colds and flu

Vitamin D supplements have been found to protect against acute respiratory infections including colds and flu, according to an international collaboration study in which researchers from Karolinska Institutet participated.

Porträtt Peter BergmanThis major global study provides the most robust evidence yet that vitamin D is beneficial for something other than bone and muscle health, and could have major implications for public health policy, including the fortification of foods with vitamin D to tackle high levels of deficiency in some countries.

Conflicting results

The results, published in the BMJ, are based on a new analysis of raw data from around 11,000 participants in 25 clinical trials conducted in 14 countries including the UK, USA, Japan, India, Afghanistan, Belgium, Italy, Australia and Canada. Individually, these trials yielded conflicting results, with some reporting that vitamin D protected against respiratory infections, and others showing no effect.

In a press release from the Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), lead researcher Professor Adrian Martineau said: “This major collaborative research effort has yielded the first definitive evidence that vitamin D really does protect against respiratory infections. Our analysis of pooled raw data from each of the 10,933 trial participants allowed us to address the thorny question of why vitamin D ‘worked’ in some trials, but not in others.”

Food fortification

According to the current findings, the protective effects of vitamin D supplementation are strongest in those who have the lowest vitamin D levels, and when supplementation is given daily or weekly rather than in more widely spaced doses. Vitamin D fortification of foods provides a steady, low-level intake of vitamin D that has virtually eliminated profound vitamin D deficiency in several countries. By demonstrating this new benefit of vitamin D, the study strengthens the case for introducing food fortification to improve vitamin D levels in countries where profound vitamin D deficiency is common.


Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data
Adrian R Martineau, David A Jolliffe, Richard L Hooper, Lauren Greenberg, John F Aloia, Peter Bergman, Gal Dubnov-Raz, Susanna Esposito, Davaasambuu Ganmaa, Adit A Ginde, Emma C Goodall, Cameron C Grant, Christopher J Griffiths, Wim Janssens, Ilkka Laaksi, Semira Manaseki-Holland, David Mauger, David R Murdoch, Rachel Neale, Judy R Rees, Steve Simpson,Jr Iwona Stelmach, Geeta Trilok Kumar, Mitsuyoshi Urashima, Carlos A Camargo Jr
BMJ, online 15 February 2017, doi:

View a press release from QMUL.