Major study suggests vitamin D supplements may prevent autoimmune disease

A five year double-blinded study involving 26,000 over 50 year olds given vitamin D or a placebo tablet, found a high vitamin D dose cut the risk of autoimmune disease (including rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease and the skin condition psoriasis), by 22 per cent. People in the study were given a daily 2,000 international units (IU) compared with the UK Department of Health’s recommended daily intake of 400 (IU). It is not known how vitamin D prevents autoimmune disease, but we know it is processed in the body in a way that alters the behaviour of immune cells.

The study was led by Karen Costenbader, a rheumatologist at Harvard University medical school in Boston.“It could be that vitamin D helps the immune system to distinguish between self [normal body tissue] and non-self [such as disease-causing microbes], or that it helps to decrease inflammatory responses to self,” she said. She now advises her patients to take 2000 IU of vitamin D a day, if they are the right age and it is safe for them to do so. However, she doesn’t recommend this for everyone. “You should tell your doctor if you start a supplement. There could be reasons you shouldn’t take them.” The researchers are now planning a follow up trial involving younger people. “I’m really quite bowled over by these results,” Costenbader says.

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