Background A 2017 meta-analysis of data from 10,933 participants in 25 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of vitamin D supplementation for prevention of acute respiratory infections (ARI) revealed a protective effect. Since then, data from 15 new RCTs with over 20,000 participants have emerged.
Methods Systematic review and meta-analysis of data from RCTs of vitamin D for ARI prevention using a random effects model. Pre-specified sub-group analyses were done to determine whether effects of vitamin D on risk of ARI varied according to baseline 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25[OH]D) concentration or dosing regimen. We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), Web of Science, ClinicalTrials.gov and the International Standard RCT Number (ISRCTN) registry from inception to 1st May 2020.
Findings We identified 40 eligible RCTs (total 30,956 participants, aged 0 to 95 years). Data were obtained for 29,841 (96.5%) of 30,909 participants in 39 studies. For the primary comparison of vitamin D supplementation vs. placebo, the intervention reduced ARI risk overall (Odds Ratio [OR] 0.89, 95% CI 0.81 to 0.98; P for heterogeneity 0.009). No statistically significant effect of vitamin D was seen for sub-groups defined by baseline 25(OH)D concentration. However, protective effects were seen for trials using a daily dosing regimen (OR 0.75, 95% CI 0.61 to 0.93); at daily dose equivalents of 400–1000 IU (OR 0.70, 95% CI 0.55 to 0.89); and for a duration of ≤12 months (OR 0.82, 95% CI 0.72 to 0.94). Vitamin D did not influence the risk of experiencing a serious adverse event. Risk of bias within studies was assessed as being low for all but two trials. A funnel plot showed asymmetry, suggesting that small trials showing non-protective effects of vitamin D may have been omitted from the meta-analysis.
Interpretation Vitamin D supplementation was safe and reduced risk of ARI, despite evidence of heterogeneity across trials. The overall effect size may have been over-estimated due to publication bias. Protection was associated with administration of daily doses of 400–1000 IU vitamin D for up to 12 months. The relevance of these findings to COVID-19 is not known and requires investigation.
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