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Vitamin D and sepsis

Posted on: October 17, 2011   by  John Cannell, MD


Sepsis or blood poisoning is the 10th leading cause of death in the USA. Death rates range from 20% for sepsis to 60% for septic shock, when blood pressure cannot be maintained. Sepsis is the most common cause of death in the ICU.

In July of 2011, researchers from three different divisions of infectious disease (Akron Medical Center, Rochester School of Medicine, and Case Medical Center) reviewed the role of vitamin D in sepsis. The lead author, Dr. Richard Watkins, reminded us that sepsis is more common in the winter, among Blacks, and further from the equator, all well-known clues to readers of this blog.

Watkins RR, Yamshchikov AV, Lemonovich TL, Salata RA. The role of vitamin D deficiency in sepsis and potential therapeutic implications. J Infect. 2011 Jul 13. [Epub ahead of print]

What surprised me was the number of studies showing sepsis is much more common among the vitamin D deficient. Furthermore, one animal model showed activated vitamin D reduced mortality. The authors went on to list the studies many readers are familiar with, showing respiratory infections (a leading cause of sepsis) are much more common in the vitamin D deficient. They even praised the theory that vitamin D may be an antibiotic and explain the increased rate of respiratory infection in the winter months without citing the proper references; not that you would expect academics to recognize a 2006 Vitamin D Council Newsletter:


Also noted in the paper is that studies show statins help sepsis. One other thing most statins do is raise vitamin D levels. I can certainly foresee the day statins have an indication for prevention of sepsis while vitamin D’s protagonists are told to marshal more controlled studies.

Nevertheless, it is hard to come away from this paper with anything but the strong possibility that sepsis is just another manifestation of vitamin D deficiency. However, without a parental (injection) version of 25(OH)D, treatment of sepsis with vitamin D will probably just take too long. If septic patients could get IV or IM 25(OH)D directly, their immune system could immediately have the substrate it needs to start making the steroid that could combat both the infection and the abnormal immune response.

1 Response to Vitamin D and sepsis

  1. [email protected]

    It appears that Vitamin D can indeed reduce sepsis
    Here is a review with hyperlinks to more information

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