Vitamin D, which plays a key role in healthy bone development, may also decrease the risk of dying from H1N1 swine flu, a study finds.
The vitamin appeared to especially benefit people in high risk groups, including people who are obese. Obesity increases the risk of dying from viral diseases. Last year’s H1N1 pandemic was especially deadly for pregnant women and people who were obese, according to health officials.
But a report, which will be published in the February 1 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases found that vitamin D can help cut mortality rates.
The study, conducted by Janice Louie of the California Department of Public Health in Richmond, Calif., looked at 500 obese patients with a body mass index of 40 or more. It was found that these patients were three times more likely to die from viruses, like the flu, than people with a healthy BMI.
Dr. Rebecca S. Boxer, a geriatrician at University Hospitals Case Medical Center, says that vitamin D is important to the health of the immune system on a cellular level.
“Vitamin D also has a relationship to inflammation and obese patients may already have a degree of inflammation,” she told AOL Health. “One way to understand this is that the volume of distribution of vitamin D might be greater for obese people. Vitamin D is fat-soluble. So the bigger you are, the more you need for it to show up at adequate levels in your blood. It spreads throughout the fat tissue and less of it is in your blood. So it can be difficult to find obese patients with enough vitamin D because it’s sinking into their fat tissue.”
Boxer says that there has been a lot of interest in vitamin D in relation to general health and well-being but that studies have not yet shown a direct cause and effect when it comes to the swine flu. “People are getting bigger, which can contribute to lower vitamin D levels. Also people do not get enough sun exposure,” she said.
Eating foods high in vitamin D, such as fatty fish, including wild salmon, is a good way to maintain healthy levels of this vitamin, Boxer said.
“Everyone should be getting their levels checked,” said. “If anything, we know that it can help keep bones healthy. We can’t say that it will prevent the swine flu, but it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough.”