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Prolonged hospitalization is linked to low vitamin D

Prolonged hospitalization is linked to low vitamin DVitamin D is important for our bones, immune defense, muscles, hormone balance, blood sugar levels, nervous system, and for preventing cancer. According to a Polish study of elderly people hospitalized in geriatric wards, lack of vitamin D may trigger a host of different diseases and possibly be a useful marker of comorbidities and length of hospital stay. This study is highly relevant as the widespread problems with vitamin D deficiency have serious health-related and socioeconomic consequences, which could otherwise be avoided conveniently and at low cost with supplementation.

Most cells in the body have vitamin D receptors (VDR) that regulate a variety of different genes and metabolic processes. Earlier research has shown that lack of vitamin D increases the risk of
type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, various cancer forms, and Alzheimer’s disease. Around one billion people worldwide are believed to lack vitamin D because of things such as not getting enough sunshine, a problem that is not exactly made easier by sun awareness campaigns. Moreover, ageing, chronic illness, and overweight are known to interfere with the body’s ability to convert vitamin D into its active steroid form, a process that is handled by the liver, the kidneys, and the immune cells. As the elderly population grows, vitamin D deficiency becomes an increasing health burden. The aim of the Polish study was to look at the relation between older hospitalized patients’ blood levels of vitamin D and the duration of their hospital stay.

Less vitamin D in the blood means longer prolonged hospitalization

The study included 242 Caucasian patients aged 60 years and older, who were hospitalized in geriatric wards. On the day they were admitted to the hospital, a blood sample was taken to establish their vitamin D levels at the time. The patients were divided into two groups depending on their vitamin D status: a deficiency group (under 50 nmol/L) and a group with suboptimal levels (50 – 74.9 nmol/L). Apparently, none of the patients had optimal levels of vitamin D (above 75 nmol/L).
In addition, the patients were split into two more groups in relation to the length of their hospital stay. A shorter period was defined as 12 days or less, while a longer period was defined as 12 days or longer.
The patients with the greatest vitamin D deficiency had longer hospital stays compared with the patients who had suboptimal levels of vitamin D in their blood. Patients with vitamin D levels below 31.2 nmol/L were 47 percent more likely to have a longer hospital stay, while patients with levels higher than 31.2 nmol/L had a 77 percent higher chance of avoiding prolonged hospitalization.
A significant majority of patients with suboptimal levels of vitamin D in their blood have shorter hospital stays when compared to patients who are deficient in vitamin D. The researchers conclude that blood levels of vitamin D have the potential to predict the length of hospital stays among older people who have been admitted to geriatric wards.
The Polish study is published in Frontiers in Nutrition and supports earlier research showing that lack of vitamin D increases the risk of disease, prolonged hospitalization, admission to intensive care units, and early death.

Vitamin D deficiency worsens the prognosis for hospitalized cancer and COVID-19 patients

Being vitamin D-deficient also increases the risk of critically ill cancer patients being admitted to intensive care units and dying within a year. Therefore, cancer patients who have completed their intensive care should take supplements of vitamin D, according to a study from Vienna that is published in Nutrients.
Another study published in the journal Endocrine in 2021 links low levels of vitamin D to an increased risk of complicated COVID-19 infections and hospitalization. Also, vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of comorbidities such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and pulmonary diseases. The scientists therefore recommend vitamin D supplementation as an inexpensive and fast way to improve the patients’ health.

  • Blood levels of vitamin D are a useful marker of disease prognosis and length of hospital stay
  • It is important to measure patients’ vitamin D levels at hospital admission and to supplement them with vitamin D to optimize blood levels of the nutrient


Justyna Nowak et al. Could vitamin D concentration be a marker of a long hospital stay in older adults patients? Frontiers in Nutrition. 2023

Nina Buchtele et al. Prevalence and Impact of Vitamin D Deficiency in Critically Ill Cancer Patients Admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. Nutrients 2021

Liji Thomas. Vitamin D deficiency associated with higher risk of COVID-19 hospitalization. News Medical Life Sciences. Jan 21, 2021

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