Study: Vitamin D supplements may help prevent autoimmune disease

key takeaways

  • A new study finds that taking 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily, with or without omega-3s, may help prevent autoimmune disease.
  • Currently, there are no known interventions to cure or prevent autoimmune disease.
  • Because the study only included adults 50 years of age and older, further research is needed to confirm whether the results apply to the general population.

During the winter months, people often turn to vitamin D supplements to improve mood and combat fatigue. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to depression, softening of bones and even severe Covid-19.

A new study finds that vitamin D supplements may offer additional benefits. They have been shown to reduce the risk of autoimmune disease by 22% in people aged 50 and older over five years.

“There really isn’t any known way to prevent autoimmune disease,” JoAnn E. Manson, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-author of the study, told VigorTip. “This will be the first time anyone has proposed and discovered an method is beneficial. ”

More than 24 million Americans currently suffer from autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus, develop when the body’s immune system fights against its own cells.

Scientists are still studying the exact causes of autoimmune diseases, making it difficult to plan preventive treatments. Many believe that both genetic and environmental factors may contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases.

Experts also suggest that autoimmune disease rates are rising in many parts of the world. A 2016 report American Journal of Epidemiology Point out that despite improved treatment options, there is still no cure for 80 different autoimmune diseases.

Because autoimmune diseases develop slowly, they can be difficult to diagnose. If left untreated, these diseases can have irreversible and even life-threatening effects.

With no known treatments, researchers like Manson and her colleagues were first motivated to find ways to reduce the risk of autoimmune disease.

what the researchers found

Manson directed the VITAL trial, a five-year, randomized, double-blind clinical trial involving more than 25,000 participants aged 50 and older. VITAL researchers are studying the link between vitamin D and omega-3 supplements and the risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke.

“We and our colleagues were interested in investigating whether vitamin D and omega-3 could also protect against autoimmune disease, since these supplements are known to reduce inflammation and benefit the immune system,” Manson said.

The study found that a daily supplement of 2,000 IU of vitamin D, with or without omega-3s, was associated with a lower risk of autoimmune disease compared to a placebo.

In addition to vitamin D, the researchers also examined the link between omega-3 and autoimmune disease risk. They found no significant difference between taking omega-3 supplements without vitamin D.

However, the study suggests that taking omega-3 supplements for extended periods of time may offer additional benefits.

“I must say I’m as surprised as anyone because despite very powerful immune and anti-inflammatory mechanisms, it’s actually quite amazing to see that taking a supplement reduces the risk of developing the disease,” Karen H. Costenbader, Medicine Ph.D., MPH, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and senior author of the study, told VigorTip.

What are the dietary sources of vitamin D?

While this study found promising results, further research is needed to demonstrate whether the results are generalizable.

“There are still a lot of questions to answer, and a lot of research to do,” Costenbader said, adding that her team plans to continue to follow up with the participants to see how the results change over time.

Because the VITAL trial only included participants aged 50 and older, the researchers hope to study different age groups in the future.

“I’d really like to study this in younger people who may be at higher genetic risk of developing autoimmune disease and test whether supplements have a similar beneficial preventive effect,” Costenbader said.

In this study, the researchers tested only one dose of each supplement (2,000 IU of vitamin D per day and 1 gram of omega-3s per day). Costenbader said it would be beneficial for future studies to test different doses to determine if there is an “optimal dose for preventing autoimmune disease.”

Manson added that the findings need to be replicated before making general recommendations. While dietary sources of vitamin D and omega-3 may have similar benefits, a complex study is required to show validated results.

Also, getting 2,000 IU per day of vitamin D from dietary sources will be challenging. For example, a serving of sockeye salmon contains 570 IU, while a glass of 2% fortified milk contains only 120 IU.

Despite their limitations, these findings are encouraging, especially for individuals who may be considered to be at high risk for autoimmune disease due to genetic or environmental factors.

“We found that 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day and 1 ga of omega-3 supplementation was safe, well tolerated, and had no side effects over 5.3 years of treatment,” Manson said. “They are inexpensive and easy to use. Given that there are no other known ways to prevent autoimmune disease, this is an exciting strategy that requires further research.”

what does this mean to you

Consult your healthcare provider before taking any new supplement. Together, you can decide if taking these supplements is right for you. The FDA does not regulate supplements. Look for the USP Verified Mark on the supplement to confirm that it does contain the ingredients listed on the label.