Superstar vitamin drives down respiratory infections

One billion... it's one of those numbers that's so big it's hard to wrap your head around it. That's how many upper respiratory infections and colds occur every single year in the United States alone.

Since the U.S. population is hovering around 315 million right now that means every single one of us could suffer through three colds a year and still not have reached the total number of these annual infections. That adds up to a whole lot of sniffles, sneezes, and coughs. Not to mention a slew of missed school and work days.

And if you're not in the best health, are very young, or happen to be a senior these infections are...well, if you'll pardon the pun, nothing to sneeze at. Serious upper respiratory infections account for a staggering 100 million emergency room visits every year.

Yet, despite all those visits to the E.R., mainstream medicine still can do very little to prevent these infections, and has nothing to offer when it comes to the common cold. That is until some scientists got the bright idea to borrow a page from the naturopath's handbook. They finally decided to take a good look at vitamin D.

Visiting the Department of "D"uh

The recent study published in the British Medical Journal confirmed what many of us have said for years (and years, and years), vitamin D can slash your risk of upper respiratory infections.

But the researchers from the Karolinska Institute and Karolinska University Hospital wanted to find out more than just if vitamin D could help prevent and relieve respiratory infections. They wondered what kind of effect the vitamin would have on people who were prone to these kinds of infections. After all, those of us who slog through the most colds and infections naturally need the most help, right?

So they conducted a double-blind randomized controlled trial (that's the really good kind) with 140 volunteers who had been suffering with respiratory tract symptoms for at least six weeks in the year prior to the study. The divided them up randomly into two groups.

"High" dose of D is actually low

The one group received 4000 IUs of vitamin D3 daily for a year. Now 4000 IU is what the researchers refer to as a "high" dose, but I call a little on the low side. Keep in mind that your own body produces about 10,000 IUs of this stuff in just 30 minutes of sun exposure. I usually recommend starting at 5,000 IUs. And for some...like the elderly or those who live far from the equator...that still may be too low.

The second (unlucky) group got a daily placebo instead.

The results were striking. Especially when you consider that the mainstream typically says there's nothing much you can do for these kinds of infections beyond throwing antibiotics at them (which, of course, won't do a darn thing in the case of viral infections anyway).

D slashes infections by 25%

The volunteers who lucked out and got the daily D3 had their respiratory symptoms plummet by 25 percent! Even more exciting, they slashed their antibiotic use by almost half.

In the end, the vitamin group spent 16 days during the study period taking antibiotics for their upper respiratory infections. But the placebo takers spent a full 33 days downing the tummy-troubling drugs. And, overall, the D3 group was 63.5 percent less likely to need antibiotics.

Talk about powerful results!

Oh, and if you're thinking that this "D for respiratory infections" experiment sounds a tad familiar, you're right. A group of New Zealand researchers recently announced the results of a study in which they claimed that D failed the test and didn't reduce the severity or number of infections.

Don't let those results confuse you. Their study was full of holes.

A flawed study gives flawed results

First of all the D was given to volunteers who were already perfectly healthy and who had normal D levels to begin with. Let's face it, you're certainly not going to see dramatic results when you give supplements to already healthy people.

And while the New Zealand scientists had the right idea when it came to amounts...they used much higher doses of D....they totally blew it when it came to execution. They skipped over the whole daily dose thing giving the D much less often. Since research has found that taking vitamins every day is most effective I'm honestly not surprised that they didn't see any significant results.

To bump up your vitamin D levels I recommend spending more time out in the sun. However, realistically many of us can't get all the D we need from sunshine alone. And of course in the winter months it becomes even more of a challenge to keep those levels up, so a vitamin D supplement is often a good idea.

But don't just start downing bottles of D on your own. It's best to work with a doctor skilled in natural medicine to determine the right dose of D for you. After all, everyone's needs are going to be a bit different.

P.S. -- Keep reading below for more on vitamin D levels and their link to headaches.