Healthcare News & Insights

Vitamin D may speed up recovery for hospital patients

Vitamin D has all sorts of health benefits for people, including boosting bone health. Now, new research shows how the “sunshine vitamin” can also cut the length of a hospital stay for patients with certain conditions. 

ThinkstockPhotos-154036814Typically, people get vitamin D from exposure to sunlight during physical activity. As a result, hospital patients have lower levels of vitamin D in their system – particularly if they’ve been in the hospital for a long time.

This can negatively affect their recovery. Besides making bones healthier, vitamin D can also improve the effectiveness of the immune system, which may reduce patients’ risk of infection.

Increasing vitamin levels

Researchers at Emory University decided to see if the healing properties of vitamin D would make a difference when it came to the recovery of several critically ill hospital patients who had respiratory failure. So they performed a clinical trial that divided patients into three groups, as detailed in a news release from the university.

The patients’ health conditions were severe upon admission. Besides respiratory failure, several patients had neurological or cardiovascular issues, and 43% of them were experiencing either septic shock or severe sepsis.

Along with the standard treatment for their various health issues, two of the groups were given high doses of vitamin D3. One group received a total of 250,000 international units (IUs) of the vitamin over five days, while the other received 500,000 IUs of vitamin D. The third group received a placebo.

Favorable results

The outcomes for patients who received vitamin D were better than those of the placebo group. Because patients in the placebo group didn’t receive the supplement, they had lower levels of vitamin D in their bloodstream on average.

In fact, testing showed that most of these patients had an average blood level of 21 ng/ml of vitamin D, which medically qualifies as insufficient (a blood level measuring between 20 and 30 ng/ml).

Patients who took the placebo had hospital stays that averaged 36 days. In contrast, patients who received the lower dose of vitamin D stayed in the hospital for an average of 25 days.

And patients who were administered the higher dose of the vitamin only stayed in a hospital for an average of 18 days – half as long as the placebo group.

The time patients spent in the intensive care unit also decreased with the amount of vitamin D they were given. High-dose patients spent an average of 15 days in the ICU, medium-dose patients had 18-day stays, and placebo patients spent an average of 23 days in intensive care. Duration of ventilator support was also lower in patients who received vitamin D supplements.

Implications for hospitals

More research may be in the works to see if these positive outcomes from vitamin D supplements hold for larger groups of patients with other critical illnesses – so it’s worth keeping an eye on future developments.

In the meantime, if clinicians notice that hospital patients have low-levels of vitamin D while conducting routine blood tests, keep in mind that it’s crucial to strike a balance between boosting their levels and causing vitamin D toxicity, which can create excessively high levels of calcium in patients’ blood.

You may want to try more subtle ways of boosting patients’ vitamin D levels, including taking advantage of any natural lighting in patient rooms – or exploring the feasibility of incorporating UV light therapy into treatments for patients at your facility.

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