Infection rates are one of the major contributing factors to death in Africa. | Getty
Researchers said Monday that a little bit of vitamin D appears to improve health and offer protection against some kinds of infectious disease in Africa.
Vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium, which is one of the components of healthy bones. But in this study, scientists wanted to see whether people deficient in vitamin D were at risk for death from some infections.
To do so, researchers gave one group of patients in Malawi single daily doses of 40 IU of vitamin D and another group of patients dummy shots.
Those who took the vitamin showed better levels of Vitamin D when they received their shots, the researchers found. They also showed better responses to wound care treatments during periods of infectious illness.
The study appears in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
Infection rates are one of the major contributing factors to death in Africa. Poor hygiene, lack of access to food and safe water and rising rates of climate change have all contributed to the increase in disease and increase in deaths in many parts of Africa.
Vitamin D deficiency, among people in Africa who lack access to adequate levels of sunlight to make vitamin D, is one contributing factor in the increasing burden of diseases in that region, said lead author Dr. Sunita Mehta, a specialist in infectious diseases at University College London.
In adults, D levels need to be maintained at at least 70 ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter) for effective vitamin D absorption, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mehta said Monday that the risk of death during the study period was minimal.
“This is a research-based study that demonstrates the use of vitamin D for the prevention of infectious diseases in Africa, which are very often preventable,” she said.
Because of these low threshold levels, Mehta said, this is one of the first studies to report the impact of getting some vitamin D.
“This particular intervention is very low-dose, which we know can be a very effective way to get the effects you’re looking for,” she said.
Other studies have found that supplementation with vitamin D can reduce the risk of infection for both patients and health care workers, Mehta said. And she said that many other vitamins, including folic acid, zinc and B6, can also provide protective benefits against disease.