High doses of vitamin D can reduce your risk of a respiratory illness, especially if you’re older

A respiratory illness is never fun, and if you’re older, a sickness like pneumonia could very well threaten your life. Treating such problems can be difficult, which is why it is best to do everything in your power to prevent respiratory illness in the first place. Thankfully, one tool that can help is as accessible as it is affordable: vitamin D.

Older adults have a greater risk of vitamin D deficiency, and some studies have shown a link between such a deficiency and acute respiratory infection. Therefore, Colorado researchers decided to investigate if high doses of vitamin D could reduce the risk of an acute respiratory infection like pneumonia, which can be especially dangerous in those who are frail or have chronic health conditions. They studied 107 adults aged 60 and older at 25 long-term care facilities for their research.

The patients involved in the study were randomly assigned to receive a standard (400 to 1,000 IU) or high dose of vitamin D (3,000 to 4,000 IU) and were followed over the course of 12 months.

At the end of the year, the researchers discovered that those who had been given the higher vitamin D doses had 40 percent fewer respiratory infections overall. However, when broken down by infection type, it’s worth noting that it was simple upper respiratory infections, such as colds and coughs, that were reduced rather than serious infections like pneumonia.

Best of all, there was no difference between the groups when it came to side effects like high blood calcium and kidney stones. Their findings were published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society.

Vitamin D benefits everyone

It’s not just the elderly who can benefit; vitamin D has also been shown to enhance respiratory health in children. According to the World Health Organization, a deficiency in the vitamin has been linked to respiratory infections such as bronchiolitis and tuberculosis in addition to pneumonia, which is the top cause of death among children around the world. The WHO reports that some studies show supplementing with vitamin D can decrease both the severity and frequency of respiratory infections in kids.

Good sources of vitamin D include oily fish like mackerel, salmon, herring and sardines; egg yolks; and red meat. However, it is difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone. The best source of all is sunlight exposure, which prompts your body to produce the vitamin D it needs. Many elderly people don’t get outdoors enough, which is why they are particularly at risk of vitamin D deficiency. In these cases, supplements may help.

The amount of time that you need to spend outdoors to get enough vitamin D varies, but generally speaking, 10 to 15 minutes of exposure a few times a week without sunscreen with your arms and legs uncovered should do the trick. Of course, your geographical location, skin tone, the time of year, and cloud cover all play a role. For example, Harvard Health reports that it’s difficult for those who live higher than 37 degrees above the equator to get enough vitamin D through sunlight in the winter.

In addition to respiratory illness, getting enough vitamin D could help reduce your risk of cancer and chronic inflammatory diseases. It is estimated that more than half of Americans aged 65 or older have a vitamin D deficiency, so consider getting a test and supplementation if you or an elderly loved one can’t spend a lot of time outdoors. It’s a simple way to keep a lot of illnesses at bay.

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