Lahore : A joint study of scientists from Punjab University and Queen Mary University of London, UK has found that high dose vitamin D supplements improve weight gain and the development of language and motor skills in malnourished children.
Punjab University Institute of Social and Cultural Studies’ PhD student Javeria Saleem, who has recently defended her PhD dissertation, is the lead author of this study. “High-dose vitamin D significantly boosted weight gain in malnourished children. This could be a game-changer in the management of severe acute malnutrition, which affects 20 million children worldwide,” the joint study found.
Dr Javeria Saleem has completed her PhD research under the supervision of Prof Dr Rubeena Zakar. Dr Javeria has worked on “high-dose vitamin D3 in the treatment of severe acute malnutrition: a multi-centre double-blind randomized controlled trial”.
Vitamin D – the ‘sunshine vitamin’ – is well known for its beneficial effects on bone and muscle health, and a study by Queen Mary researchers last year found that it could also protect against colds and flu. Now new research from the team is revealing further benefits.
“This is the first clinical trial in humans to show that vitamin D can affect brain development, lending weight to the idea that vitamin D has important effects on the central nervous system,” senior author Professor Adrian Martineau from Queen Mary University of London has stated in a press release by Queen Mary University of London.
“Further trials in other settings are now needed to see whether our findings can be reproduced elsewhere. We are also planning a larger trial in Pakistan to investigate whether high-dose vitamin D could reduce mortality in children with severe malnutrition,” he adds.
“Our findings could be a great help to the Health Ministry of Pakistan in dealing with the issue of malnutrition,” said senior author Prof Dr Rubeena Zakar of Punjab University Institute of Social and Cultural Studies. In view of its social and public significance, Dr. Rubeena Zakar plans to conduct a larger scale study on this subject by including children from various social class, ethnic and racial backgrounds. The study was funded by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan.
The study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, took place in Pakistan, where an estimated 1.4 million children live with severe acute malnutrition and are at increased risk of long-term effects on their physical and mental health.
High energy food sachets are the standard treatment for the condition, but they contain relatively modest amounts of vitamin D.
In the study, 185 severely malnourished children aged 6-58 months were treated with an eight-week course of high energy food sachets, and were also randomised to either receive additional high-dose vitamin D (two doses of 200,000 international units / 5 milligrams, given by mouth) or placebo.
After eight weeks, vitamin D supplementation led to clinically significant improvements in weight (on average gaining an extra 0.26 kg compared to the control group).
Vitamin D supplementation also resulted in substantial reductions in the proportion of children with delayed motor development, delayed language development and delayed global development (reaching certain milestones such as learning to walk or talk).
The researchers say their study has some limitations including that it did not look at varying the dose of vitamin D to see if a lower dose would have been sufficient to boost weight gain and brain development. While they saw no overt adverse reactions, the possibility of side effects arising with clinical use of this high dose of vitamin D cannot be excluded.