Can a super-dose of vitamin D cut hospital stays?

Patients who took extremely high doses of vitamin D were discharged from the hospital after 18 days as compared to those who received a placebo and stayed on average 50 percent longer, or 36 days. (Credit: iStockphoto)

Very high doses of vitamin D may help critically ill patients with respiratory failure leave the hospital sooner, a small study suggests.

Vitamin D is thought to increase the ability of immune cells to fight infection—but hospitalized patients often have insufficient levels of it because of their lack of exercise and exposure to the sun.

For the study, 31 patients were divided into three groups. Two of the groups received high doses of vitamin D3 (a total of 250,000 or 500,000 international units over five days), and one received a placebo.

Significantly shorter stay

“These dosages were significantly higher than normal daily doses and were intended to quickly restore vitamin D levels in patients who have low levels,” says Jenny Han, assistant professor of medicine at Emory University.

Study participants who received a placebo had an average blood level of 21 ng/ml vitamin D. The Endocrine Society defines deficiency as less than 20 ng/ml and insufficiency as between 20 and 30 ng/ml.

The average length of hospital stay was statistically significant for those who received the higher dose of vitamin D: 36 days for placebo, 25 days for lower dose, and 18 days for higher dose.


The length of stay in intensive care also tended to decrease (average 23 days for placebo, 18 days for lower dose vitamin D, 15 days for higher dose vitamin D), but the change was not statistically significant. A similar result was observed for duration of ventilator support.

The majority of the patients in the study had severe sepsis or septic shock; 43 percent had some type of infection upon admission. Some had cardiovascular or neurologic diseases.

More research is needed to determine the effect of vitamin D on patient recovery, the authors say.

“These data can inform the design of a larger, adequately powered randomized controlled trial on the efficacy of high-dose vitamin D3 on host immunity and other indices associated with recovery,” they write.

The findings were presented at a recent meeting of the American Thoracic Society.

Source: Emory University