The research linked vitamin D deficiency to premature death.
One in three Australian individuals still have mild, moderate, or severe vitamin D deficiency despite the fact that sunlight is a major source of the vitamin.
Now, a new study from the University of South Australia provides compelling evidence that vitamin D deficiency is linked to early mortality, prompting calls for individuals to follow healthy vitamin D level guidelines.
The research, which was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, indicated that the risk of death increased with the severity of the vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that helps us maintain good health by keeping our bones and muscles strong and healthy.
Josh Sutherland, the first author and a Ph.D. student at UniSA, notes that while vitamin D has been linked to mortality, its causal effects have been difficult to prove.
“While severe vitamin D deficiency is rarer in Australia than elsewhere in the world, it can still affect those who have health vulnerabilities, the elderly, and those who do not acquire enough vitamin D from healthy sun exposure and dietary sources,” Sutherland says.
“Our study provides strong evidence for the connection between low levels of vitamin D and mortality, and this is the first study of its kind to also include respiratory disease-related mortality as an outcome. We used a new genetic method to explore and affirm the non-linear relationships that we’ve seen in observational settings, and through this, we’ve been able to give strong evidence for the connection between low vitamin D status and premature death.”
He continues, “Vitamin D deficiency has been connected with mortality, but as clinical trials have often failed to recruit people with low vitamin D levels – or have been prohibited from including vitamin deficient participants – it’s been challenging to establish causal relationships.”
Vitamin D Recommended Daily Intake*
|Life Stage||Recommended Amount|
|Birth to 12 months||10 mcg (400 IU)|
|Children 1–13 years||15 mcg (600 IU)|
|Teens 14–18 years||15 mcg (600 IU)|
|Adults 19–70 years||15 mcg (600 IU)|
|Adults 71 years and older||20 mcg (800 IU)|
|Pregnant and breastfeeding teens and women||15 mcg (600 IU)|
The Mendelian randomization study evaluated 307,601 records from the UK Biobank. Low levels of vitamin D were noted as less than <25 nmol/L with the average concentration found to be 45.2 nmol/L. Over a 14-year follow-up period, researchers found that the risk for death significantly decreased with increased vitamin D concentrations, with the strongest effects seen among those with severe deficiencies.
Senior investigator and Director of UniSA’s Australian Centre for Precision Health, Professor Elina Hyppönen, says more research is now needed to establish effective public health strategies that can help achieve national guidelines and reduce the risk of premature death associated with low vitamin D levels.
“The take-home message here is simple – the key is in the prevention. It is not good enough to think about vitamin D deficiency when already facing life-challenging situations when early action could make all the difference,” Prof Hyppönen says.
“It is very important to continue public health efforts to ensure the vulnerable and elderly maintain sufficient vitamin D levels throughout the year.”
Reference: “Vitamin D Deficiency Increases Mortality Risk in the UK Biobank” by Joshua P. Sutherland, BHSc Nut Med (Hons), Ang Zhou, Ph.D. and Elina Hyppönen, Ph.D., November 2022, Annals of Internal Medicine.
The study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
*These are the average daily recommended amounts according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS).