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Doctor Fights Flu With Vitamin D

Beating influenza and other infectious diseases might be as simple as spending more time in the sun, drinking more milk or just taking vitamin D supplements. That's the finding of a study headed by Dr. James R. Sabetta, an infectious disease specialist at Greenwich Hospital .

"You can't think anything is a panacea," says Sabetta, a Greenwich resident. But, he says, the effects of vitamin D were "were so dramatic. We were able to prove it with only 198 people." The study, done in conjunction with the Yale University School of Medicine , was conducted from last September to January.

While the government recommends a blood level of 30 nanograms per milliliter or more of the vitamin, Sabetta's team found that increasing the level to 38 or more made all the difference."

Of the 198 people who participated in the study, 18 had vitamin D levels at 38 or above. Of those 18, only three became ill; in contrast 81 of the 180 people with lower vitamin levels became sick during the study.

The next step in the research would be a large study in which some people get placebos and others doses of vitamin D. Other studies under way may be used to determine more about the effects of vitamin D.

Sabetta, who usually spends his days seeing patients, found his days coordinating the study hectic. "Imaging trying to make sure 198 people come back for their blood tests, or having to make sure they were letting you know if they were sick," he says.

Getting enough vitamin D might sound simple, but the main source of it is spending time outside soaking up rays. Skin cancer fears have spurred most to slather on sunscreen, which limits the body's ability to absorb the vitamin. And in our area, long winters cut time in the sun. Add to that air pollution, which blocks essential rays, and you have a problem.

Fortified foods such as milk can help. But Sabetta says daily vitamins are the key. "I'm not big on taking supplements, but I take vitamin D and calcium," he says.

How much to take differs from person to person. Sabetta says he and his colleagues are developing a calculator that would allow people to load key information (skin type, weight, height) to help them determine how much vitamin D they need.

In the meantime, he says your doctor should be monitoring your level of the vitamin through routine blood tests.

"As long as you get your vitamin D," Sabetta says, "you'll be fine."

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