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Insufficient evidence for vitamin D preventing or treating ARTIs

NICE and SACN have reviewed available evidence on vitamin D and the risk of acute respiratory tract infections (ARTIs) and COVID-19.

  • there is insufficient evidence on the role of vitamin D and risk of respiratory tract infections
  • PHE, SACN and NICE will continue to monitor and assess emerging evidence in this field
  • current UK government advice to take a daily 10 microgram vitamin D supplement to protect musculoskeletal health still applies

Vitamin D is needed to keep bones and muscles healthy. It has also been suggested that vitamin D could reduce the risk of Acute Respiratory Tract Infections (ARTIs) and COVID-19.

This has been explored in 2 new rapid reviews, published yesterday, from the Scientific Advisory Commission on Nutrition (SACN) and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). PHE commissioned SACN to examine new evidence on whether vitamin D supplementation could reduce the risk of ARTIs and supported NICE to review emerging evidence on vitamin D and the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

SACN rapid review

SACN’s rapid review assessed evidence on vitamin D and ARTIs that had been published since the last SACN review in 2016. ARTIs refers to any infection of the sinuses, throat, airways or lungs. The review did not look specifically at the effect of vitamin D supplementation on COVID-19 risk.

The review concluded that evidence currently does not support vitamin D supplementation to prevent ARTIs in the general UK population. The review reiterates the importance of vitamin D for bone and muscle health.

Sunlight is the primary source of Vitamin D. That is why with ‘stay at home’ measures in place the UK government re-issued advice at the beginning of April 2020 that everyone takes a daily vitamin D supplement to mitigate the effects of reduced time outdoors.

Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist, PHE, yesterday said:

With many people spending more time indoors, particularly the more vulnerable groups and those ‘shielding’, there is a risk that some people may not be getting all the vitamin D they need from sunlight. It’s important they consider taking a daily 10 micrograms vitamin D supplement to help protect bone and muscle health.

NICE evidence summary

PHE also supported the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to conduct a rapid evidence summary evaluating emerging evidence on vitamin D in relation to COVID-19.

The review included 5 observational studies on vitamin D and COVID-19 published on or before 18 June 2020. All 5 studies were assessed as being very low quality evidence, at high risk of bias. There was no data from clinical trials on vitamin D supplementation for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 available.

The review concluded that there is currently no evidence to support taking vitamin D supplements to reduce the risk or severity of COVID-19.

Paul Chrisp, Director for the Centre for Guidelines, NICE, yesterday said:

While there are health benefits associated with vitamin D, our rapid evidence summary did not identify sufficient evidence to support the use of vitamin D supplements for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19.

We know that the research on this subject is ongoing, and NICE is continuing to monitor new published evidence.

NICE rapid evidence summaries differ from NICE guidance in that they do not include recommendations but offer an assessment of the best available evidence for a selected topic, which may then be used alongside other available information (such as the specific patient circumstances), to inform individual health care decisions.

Impact on BAME groups

Existing advice highlights that people who have dark skin, for example with an African, African-Caribbean or south Asian background, may not get enough vitamin D from sunlight and it is recommended that they consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout the year.

The SACN 2016 review found a lack of available evidence on the role of vitamin D in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups, with the report recommending that further research is undertaken on “whether there are differences in dietary vitamin D requirements of ethnic groups in the UK”.

PHE, SACN and NICE are aware that a systematic review and controlled trials on vitamin D and COVID-19 are underway and will continue to monitor and assess new evidence as it is published.


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