Supplementing with vitamin D could prolong your life, according to a new European study. “The intake of usual doses of vitamin D seems to decrease mortality from any cause of death," said lead researcher Philippe Autier, MD, from the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France.
The new finding is somewhat of an anomaly, because the benefits of vitamin supplements remains uncertain at best. While they are often touted as a means of reducing risks for cancer and heart disease, some studies have found supplements have no effect on these conditions.
But vitamin D may be the exception, according to the results of this new study.
"This is the first study that shows that taking one vitamin has an impact on mortality," Dr. Autier said. "If you want to increase your vitamin D intake by taking supplements, it looks like a great idea."
Dr. Autier and colleagues looked at data from 18 trials involving more than 57,000 people. Doses of vitamin D in the trials varied from 300 international units (IU) to 2,000 IU, with an average dose of 528 IU.
Over a follow-up of almost six years, 4,777 of the study participants died. Those who took vitamin D supplements had a 7% lower risk of death compared with those who didn't take the supplement, according to the researchers.
Nine of the trials had collected blood samples. Participants who took the supplements had a 1.4- to 5.2-fold higher level of vitamin D in their blood compared to those who did not, the researchers noted.
This finding could lead to new drugs to fight cancer and other diseases, Dr. Autier said. "Vitamin D can reduce the proliferation of cells and the proliferation of cells is something you see in cancer," he said.
Dr. Autier believes people should take between 400 IU and 600 IU of vitamin D daily, "There is no need to take more-that's crazy." he said. "You have to be careful not to take a dose that's too high," he added.
Another way to make sure you get vitamin D is to get a moderate amount of sun exposure each day, since the skin uses sunlight to produce its own vitamin D.