Vitamin D supplements lower risk of autoimmune disease, researchers say

A recent study conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital has revealed the first direct evidence of protection against rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and other conditions in older adults.

The study, published in BMJ, involved participants from the vitamin D and omega-3 trial (VITAL) who were followed for about five years.

Those who consumed vitamin D or a combination of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids showed a notably lower incidence of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, polymyalgia rheumatica, autoimmune thyroid disease, and psoriasis compared to those who received a placebo.

“It is exciting to have these new and positive results for nontoxic vitamins and supplements preventing potentially highly morbid diseases,” said senior author Karen Costenbader of the Brigham’s Division of Rheumatology, Inflammation and Immunity. “This is the first direct evidence we have that daily supplementation may reduce AD incidence, and what looks like more pronounced effect after two years of supplementation for vitamin D. We look forward to honing and expanding our findings and encourage professional societies to consider these results and emerging data when developing future guidelines for the prevention of autoimmune diseases in midlife and older adults.”

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“Now, when my patients, colleagues, or friends ask me which vitamins or supplements I’d recommend they take to reduce risk of autoimmune disease, I have new evidence-based recommendations for women age 55 years and older and men 50 years and older,” said Costenbader. “I suggest vitamin D 2000 IU a day and marine omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), 1000 mg a day — the doses used in VITAL.”

The VITAL study is a randomized, double-blind, placeb research trial involving 25,871 men aged 50 and older and women aged 55 and older in the United States. Its objective is to investigate whether daily dietary supplements of vitamin D3 (2000 IU) or omega-3 fatty acids (Omacor fish oil, 1 gram) can lower the risk of cancer, heart disease, and stroke in individuals without a history of these conditions.

Participants were randomly assigned to receive either vitamin D with omega-3 fatty acid supplements, vitamin D with a placebo, omega-3 fatty acids with a placebo, or placebos only.

Additionally, prior to the study’s commencement, researchers decided to also examine rates of Alzheimer’s disease among participants as part of an ancillary investigation.

“Given the benefits of vitamin D and omega-3s for reducing inflammation, we were particularly interested in whether they could protect against autoimmune diseases,” said JoAnn Manson, co-author and director of the parent VITAL trial at the Brigham.

Participants answered questionnaires about new diagnoses of diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, polymyalgia rheumatica, autoimmune thyroid disease, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease, with space to write in all other new onset ADs.

Trained physicians reviewed patients’ medical records to confirm reported diagnoses.

“Autoimmune diseases are common in older adults and negatively affect health and life expectancy. Until now, we have had no proven way of preventing them, and now, for the first time, we do,” said first author, Jill Hahn, a postdoctoral fellow at the Brigham. “It would be exciting if we could go on to verify the same preventive effects in younger individuals.”

In the study, participants who were randomly assigned to receive vitamin D showed a 22 percent reduction in confirmed AD cases compared to the placebo group.

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However, supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids alone did not show a significant decrease in AD incidence. Interestingly, the study did suggest a potential increased effect of omega-3 fatty acids with longer supplementation duration.

The VITAL study had a diverse and large participant sample, but all individuals were older, which may limit the generalizability of the results to younger populations who develop AD earlier. Additionally, the trial only tested one dose and formulation of each supplement.

The researchers recommend longer follow-up to determine if the effects are sustained over time.

This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health grants R01 AR059086, U01 CA138962, R01 CA138962.

This is HUGE in the world of vitamins and science!




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