MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Vitamin D and Omega-3 supplements help the elderly avoid Covid-19 infection by boosting their immune systems, study claims. Yes, that was the headline in the DAILY MAIL on 11/11/2020. Naturally, I found this interesting. So, I looked up the original paper. Here is its abstract:

Importance: The benefits of vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and exercise in disease prevention remain unclear.

Objective: To test whether vitamin D, omega-3s, and a strength-training exercise program, alone or in combination, improved 6 health outcomes among older adults.

Design, setting, and participants: Double-blind, placebo-controlled, 2 × 2 × 2 factorial randomized clinical trial among 2157 adults aged 70 years or older who had no major health events in the 5 years prior to enrollment and had sufficient mobility and good cognitive status. Patients were recruited between December 2012 and November 2014, and final follow-up was in November 2017.

Interventions: Participants were randomized to 3 years of intervention in 1 of the following 8 groups: 2000 IU/d of vitamin D3, 1 g/d of omega-3s, and a strength-training exercise program (n = 264); vitamin D3 and omega-3s (n = 265); vitamin D3 and exercise (n = 275); vitamin D3 alone (n = 272); omega-3s and exercise (n = 275); omega-3s alone (n = 269); exercise alone (n = 267); or placebo (n = 270).

Main outcomes and measures: The 6 primary outcomes were change in systolic and diastolic blood pressure (BP), Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB), Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), and incidence rates (IRs) of nonvertebral fractures and infections over 3 years. Based on multiple comparisons of 6 primary end points, 99% confidence intervals are presented and P < .01 was required for statistical significance.

Results: Among 2157 randomized participants (mean age, 74.9 years; 61.7% women), 1900 (88%) completed the study. Median follow-up was 2.99 years. Overall, there were no statistically significant benefits of any intervention individually or in combination for the 6 end points at 3 years. For instance, the differences in mean change in systolic BP with vitamin D vs no vitamin D and with omega-3s vs no omega-3s were both -0.8 (99% CI, -2.1 to 0.5) mm Hg, with P < .13 and P < .11, respectively; the difference in mean change in diastolic BP with omega-3s vs no omega-3s was -0.5 (99% CI, -1.2 to 0.2) mm Hg; P = .06); and the difference in mean change in IR of infections with omega-3s vs no omega-3s was -0.13 (99% CI, -0.23 to -0.03), with an IR ratio of 0.89 (99% CI, 0.78-1.01; P = .02). No effects were found on the outcomes of SPPB, MoCA, and incidence of nonvertebral fractures). A total of 25 deaths were reported, with similar numbers in all treatment groups.

Conclusions and relevance: Among adults without major comorbidities aged 70 years or older, treatment with vitamin D3, omega-3s, or a strength-training exercise program did not result in statistically significant differences in improvement in systolic or diastolic blood pressure, nonvertebral fractures, physical performance, infection rates, or cognitive function. These findings do not support the effectiveness of these 3 interventions for these clinical outcomes.

Speachless?

Me too!

The study has noting to do with COVID-19 and very little with infections. The bit about infections shows almost the opposite of what the MAIL claims. So, where does the notion stipulated in the headline come from?

The MAIL article gives the answer: Professor Heike Bischoff-Ferrari from Zurich University in Switzerland, who led the latest study, said: ‘Our findings suggest supplementation of vitamin D and omega-3s in adults aged 70 or older who lead an active lifestyle and have no pre-existing conditions does not provide any benefits when it comes to bone health, memory and muscle function. ‘However, we believe there is an effect on infections – such as Covid-19.’  

I would not be surprised, if the last sentence in the quote was taken out of context.

I would not be surprised, if this is the worst health related article in the DAIL MAIL this year.

And, by Jove, there are plenty to choose from.

And why do I report all this?

As I have pointed out before, I believe that journalists have a lot to answer for when it comes to misleading the public about so-called alternative medicine (SCAM):

My hope is that, by reminding them of their ‘errors’ every now and then, I might contribute to some progress.

Yes, I know, I am an incurable optimist!

7 Responses to Vitamin D and Omega-3 supplements help the elderly avoid Covid-19 infection – no, sorry, this was more fake news from the DAILY MAIL

  • I was going to tweet this to you but thought it a bit beneath you but here goes:

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-8924175/Coronavirus-downing-handfuls-vitamins-day-save-you.html

    “People in the Facebook groups told me to listen to my body and advised how much to take.’ Also in her ‘immune-boosting’ tool kit are six daily capsules of antioxidant curcumin, twice the recommended weekly intake of omega-3 fats, and ten times the Government recommendation of Vitamin D.”

  • But don’t give the wrong impression: Vitamin D Mitigates COVID-19, Say 40+ Patient Studies (listed below) – Yet BAME, Elderly, Care-homers, and Obese are still ‘D’ deficient, thus at greater COVID-19 risk – WHY?
    https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m3872/rr-5

  • A friend of mine used to be the Chief Sub-Editor for the Daily Telegraph. Part of her job was to look at the other papers to check that they hadn’t missed any important stories. She regularly found news items in the Daily Mail that the Telegraph had been unaware of. When she investigated further they were nearly all completely fabricated.

    When I was practising as an oncologist, I often read the Mail so that I would know what nonsense my patients were going to throw at me. Though the medical pages of the Times weren’t much better.

    • yes, I have noted such stories too.
      but why is this tolerated?
      why is there no institution that oversees such fraud?
      it is immensely harmful on many levels.

  • An interesting paper nonetheless. I want to know how they double blinded strength building exercise. Were the placebos plastic dumbells?

  • The Mail article is hodgepodge. What do you expect? Right, that the quote from the author was taken out of context.

    But while I disagree with a lot on how the article is written, like you do too, *that* part seems quite plausible.

    The lead author is basing her assertion apparently on

    > “Vitamin D supplementation was safe and it protected against acute respiratory tract infection overall.” Martineau 2017 PROSPERO CRD42014013953. BMJ 2017;356:i6583 | doi: 10.1136/bmj.i6583

    She repeated that claim in a less Maily outlet called “Arzneimitteltherapie” on 24 September 2020

    “Hype um die Vitamin-D-Substitution: Was bleibt?” https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00108-020-00869-y

    > ” Taking vitamin D compared to placebo reduced the risk of acute respiratory infections by 12% across all study participants and by 42% in participants with vitamin D deficiency at baseline…”

    So my conclusion is that the study was presented as “D is x/y in certain circumstances”, then we saw press release and a Maily journalists asked questions. And today, everyone wants to know about corona. To which the lead author added her usual spiel. Then the article goes into the office, someone rewrites a few parts, jacks up the narrative further, a headline is written by a salesman who didn’t knew much about the content and didn’t check for any linked info.

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