In the United States, hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are the leading cause of death in the health care arena, with over 1.7 million cases per year and 100,000 deaths. Now, new research shows that the risk of hospital-acquired infections could be significantly reduced by increasing vitamin D concentrations among hospital patients.

According to the study, published by Dermato-Endocrinology, HAIs generate around $28.4 billion to $45 billion in excess health care costs each year in the US.

Low vitamin D concentrations are associated with diseases, such as respiratory infections, heart disease, and cancer.

Pneumonia, bacteremias, urinary tract infections, surgical site infections, and sepsis are the most common hospital-acquired infections.

Vitamin D plays a significant antimicrobial role. For instance, it reduces local and systemic inflammatory responses as a result of modulating cytokine responses, reduces Toll-like receptor activation, and stimulates the expression of potent antimicrobial peptides, including β-defensin 2 and cathelicidin.

Cathelicidins are a family of peptides that are thought to protect against a wide range of potential microbial pathogens, such as fungi, mycobacteria, gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, at several different entry sites, including, mucosal linings of the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems, skin, and some viruses.

According to the researchers, vitamin D strengthens the innate immune response by overcoming the antibiotic resistance of many bacteria encountered in hospitals.

Optimal vitamin D concentrations are at least 30-40 ng/ml (75-100 nmol/l). The team highlights that the average African-American has a vitamin D concentration of only 16 ng/ml, while the average white American has a concentration of 26 ng/ml.

Over the past two decades, vitamin D concentrations have decreased; this is partially due to people spending less time outside.

Approximately 50% of patients who have been admitted to hospital have concentrations below 20 ng/ml, thus making them more vulnerable to hospital-acquired infections, say the researchers.

They note that the rate of diseases, such as cancer, hip fractures, respiratory infections, and heart disease could be significantly reduced by increasing vitamin D concentrations among patients.

In an associated report, David McCarthy, M.D., suggests that giving patients a high-dose of vitamin D3 (5,000 and 50,000 IU) could help overcome vitamin D deficiency among hospital patients.

What is vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a steroid vitamin, a group of fat-soluble prohormones. Vitamin D, among other things, encourages the metabolism as well as the absorption of phosphorous and calcium.

We know of five forms of vitamin D - vitamin D1, vitamin D2, vitamin D3, vitamin D4, vitamin D5. Vitamins D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol) are the ones that matter the most to humans.

Further reading: "What Is Vitamin D? What Are The Benefits Of Vitamin D?"

Written by Grace Rattue