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Is Vitamin D the New C for Preventing Colds and Respiratory Infections?

According to a study published in the February 23rd issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, increasing your consumption of vitamin D may protect against common respiratory infections like the cold and flu.

For the study, researchers from the University of Colorado and Massachusetts General Hospital reviewed data on almost 19,000 adults and adolescents that took part in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

As part of the NHANES survey each participant provided a blood sample which was used to establish vitamin D levels. The survey also includes an interview during which health-related questions were asked. That information was used to establish rates of respiratory infections among participants.

After reviewing the data and adjusting for outside influences like body mass, smoking, alcohol consumption and chronic diseases, the researchers found that participants with the lowest vitamin D levels (10 ng/mL) were about 40% more likely to have a respiratory infection than those with the highest levels (30 ng/mL).

Low vitamin D levels were associated with even higher risks in those with chronic disorders like asthma, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In fact, those with a history of asthma who had low vitamin D levels were five times more likely to have a respiratory tract infection than those with the highest levels.

Beyond immune support, vitamin D has been associated with a number of other health benefits. It has been shown to lower blood pressure, increase calcium absorption, stimulate the immune system, regulate cell growth and protect against certain cancers.

There are two forms of vitamin D, D2 and D3. Vitamin D3 is created in our skin after exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D2 is synthesized from plants. Both can be used as ingredients in food and supplements.

Studies suggest that vitamin D3 is much more potent than D2, although many products use D2 because it is less expensive.

The traditional way to increase vitamin D intake is to get more sun. This can prove difficult because as you age your skin becomes less efficient at synthesizing the vitamin. The problem is made worse for those living in areas that don't get a lot of sun.

Even if you live in an area that gets plenty of sun year-round, there is always the risk of skin cancer. A safe alternative to lying by the pool may be to take a high quality supplement, or consume more foods fortified with vitamin D. Fish, milk products and many cereals either contain vitamin D naturally, or are fortified with the vitamin.
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