Role of vitamin D supplementation in modifying outcomes after surgery: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials

Akshay Patel*, Edward J Caruana, James Hodson, Rory Morrison, Bo Khor, Savannah Gysling, Jason Trevis, Tobin Mangel, Ruth Benson, Roxanna Zakeri, Jennifer Manders, Ricky Vaja, Luke Rogers, Paul Baker, Dimitri J Pournaras, David Thickett, Martin Hewison, Babu Naidu, Eric Lim

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Background: There is increasing evidence to suggest vitamin D plays a role in immune and vascular function; hence, it may be of biological and clinical relevance for patients undergoing major surgery. With a greater number of randomised studies being conducted evaluating the impact of vitamin D supplementation on surgical patients, it is an opportune time to conduct further analysis of the impact of vitamin D on surgical outcomes.

Methods: MEDLINE, EMBASE and the Cochrane Trials Register were interrogated up to December 2023 to identify randomised controlled trials of vitamin D supplementation in surgery. The risk of bias in the included studies was assessed using the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool. A narrative synthesis was conducted for all studies. The primary outcome assessed was overall postoperative survival.

Results: We screened 4883 unique studies, assessed 236 full-text articles and included 14 articles in the qualitative synthesis, comprising 1982 patients. The included studies were highly heterogeneous with respect to patient conditions, ranging from open heart surgery to cancer operations to orthopaedic conditions, and also with respect to the timing and equivalent daily dose of vitamin D supplementation (range: 0.5–7500 mcg; 20–300 000 IU). No studies reported significant differences in overall survival or postoperative mortality with vitamin D supplementation. There was also no clear evidence of benefit with respect to overall or intensive care unit length of stay.

Discussion: Numerous studies have reported the benefits of vitamin D supplementation in different surgical settings without any consistency. However, this systematic review found no clear evidence of benefit, which warrants the supposition that a single biological effect of vitamin D supplementation does not exist. The observed improvement in outcomes in low vitamin D groups has not been convincingly proven beyond chance findings.

Trial registration number: CRD42021232067.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere073431
Number of pages8
JournalBMJ open
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 2024


  • clinical decision-making
  • surgery
  • nutritional support
  • general endocrinology
  • clinical physiology


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