A major new study suggests that adding Vitamin D to foodstuffs in the UK could save the NHS money, cut down on risk of respiratory infections, and prevent early deaths.
The global study, published in the British Medical Journal, suggests that those living in the UK need to be taking Vitamin D supplements as they do not get enough from sunlight.
Sunshine Vitamin Lack
Previous to the results of the study being published, there have already been warnings about the lack of Vitamin D for UK residents. A government advisory committee on nutrition has already recommended food fortification as a way to solve the low levels amongst the population. An example of this would be the US policy of adding Vitamin D to milk, as those with international food careers may be aware. Now, the new study seems to add weight to this argument.
“The results are likely to change the cost/benefit analysis significantly,” said Adrian Martineau, clinical professor of respiratory infection and immunity at Queen Mary University of London.
The team put together raw data from 25 clinical trials for a metastudy which involved 11,000 participants who hailed from 14 different countries. They say that a regular dose of Vitamin D is essential for preventing colds and flu, especially in the wintertime when the reduced levels of sunlight mean that there is not as much produced naturally in the body.
They now say that they can see a significant difference for those who take Vitamin D daily or weekly. This will be more pronounced in those who already have low levels: people who cover their skin often, those who don’t go outside regularly, and those with dark skin.
Getting enough Vitamin D from food is currently not possible. Oily fish and shiitake mushrooms offer a larger dose, but there is not much else on the menu. So the solution, researchers suggest, is either to have everyone taking daily supplements – or to start introducing it into other foodstuffs.
Prevention of Colds
The figures cannot be argued with. In those who started with low levels of Vitamin D, respiratory infections were cut by half. Even those with the highest levels of Vitamin D saw a 10% decrease in infections.
Around 70% of the population in the UK currently suffer from a respiratory infection during the course of a year, with 25% going to the doctor for treatment. They are the most frequently used reasons for taking time off work, and for GP consultations. There are 300,000 hospitalisations a year and 38,000 deaths as a result of the infections. In 2013, it is estimated that 2.65 million people died around the globe from a condition such as a cold, the flu, bronchitis, or pneumonia.
The researchers estimate that having daily or weekly supplements would save around 3.25 million people from having that respiratory infection every year. It’s by no means a cure or vaccine against the common cold, but it would certainly help.
Food Industry Applications
So, what does this mean for the food industry? Well, those with new product development jobs should certainly be paying attention.
“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,” said Martineau. “By demonstrating this new benefit of vitamin D, our study strengthens the case for introducing food fortification to improve vitamin D levels in countries such as the UK where profound vitamin D deficiency is common.”
It could soon be time to start introducing Vitamin D into new product lines – and it could even be government-mandated.