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immune support

How can Vitamin D support your immune system?

While talking with some of my Functional Health Coach chums, I asked what their favourite vitamin was. After the initial shock, this question is a bit like asking who your favourite child is… more than 70% of those asked for my highly unscientific poll agreed on vitamin D. We then delved into minerals, but that’s a whole other story.

Unless you live under a very large rock with no access to the outside world you’ll have seen that vitamin D has been in the news recently. This is due to the first randomised controlled trial which showed that administering vitamin D almost completely removed the risk of needing admission to the ICU for patients who’d tested positive for Coronavirus. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960076020302764?via%3Dihub This is obviously fantastic, although more research is needed as the study was small.

However, that’s not why this vitamin would always be top of my vitamin charts. Firstly, most people know of its role in supporting calcium absorption. It also helps to prevent rickets, osteoporosis and stress fractures. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to increased risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and death from all causes. While these are all great reasons to optimize your vitamin D levels, my interest lies in the immunomodulatory effects of the vitamin.

Immunomodulatory impact

Part of the conclusion from The Implication of Vitamin D and autoimmunity: A Comprehensive Review states:

“Due to its unique capability to bind to VDR* and serve as a transcriptional factor, vitamin D can regulate gene expression and further exert its immunomodulatory effects on immune cells.”

*Vitamin D receptor

It goes on to state that additional studies are required to fully understand the potential capacity of vitamin D to prevent and ameliorate autoimmunity. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23359064/

So what does this mean for those of us who are living with an autoimmune disease? Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that clients report hair regrowth after the Summer when they’ve tended to be outside more, or been on holiday to a sunny place. That said given that vitamin D is toxic at high levels the answer isn’t just to  take a supplement. First you need to understand what your levels actually are, and retest after 3 to 4 months. You can ask your GP to run the test or use one of the private companies to get this information. I like Medichecks or Tiny Tests.

Sunshine is simplest

The easiest (and cheapest) way to obtain vitamin D is from sunlight, but in the UK that’s only possible between the end of March and September. I like the Dminder app which helps you to track depending on your location, your skin colour and amount of exposed skin. The image below is from September 22nd 2020 in North West England. We only have a few more weeks remaining after which time you’ll need to look for other sources until late March/early April 2021 when it becomes available from the sun again.

Snapshot from Dminder app

Food

Good sources are cod livers and cod liver oil. Other fatty fish include herring, fatty tuna, rainbow trout, salmon, sardines, and mackerel. Other good food sources are egg yolks with free range eggs containing more (approx 4-6 times more) than eggs produced by chickens without access to pasture.

Supplement

While you could argue that cod liver oil is a supplement. Here I’m talking about the ones which are not food-based. Ideally you’re looking for an over the counter supplement which also contains vitamin K2 as they work together synergistically.

Toxic

As stated earlier too much can be toxic so don’t start to supplement without first knowing what your personal level is. There’s a fair amount of debate regarding what optimal levels are. Generally in the Functional Medicine Community 50ng/ml is regarded as optimal, but that doesn’t mean that would be the perfect level for you.

To wrap up I make sure that I obtain vitamin D from sunlight in the first instance, and then food. Given the risk of toxicity I don’t think this is a supplement that you should take without medical advice. If you’re interested to find out more take a look at this article by Chris Kresser. https://chriskresser.com/vitamin-d-more-is-not-better/

Which vitamins support your immune system?

I’m lucky enough to have two parents in their 70s. My Dad, in particular, is part of the at risk group for coronavirus, as he used to smoke 40+ a day for 40+ years and my Mum was exposed to all of that second-hand smoke. Right now no-one in my immediate family is taking an immunosuppressant which would increase their risk of picking up any cold or virus going. So which vitamins and minerals support your immune system?

This is how we’re staying as healthy as possible. In addition to the common sense steps recommended by the WHO (not THE WHO) https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses we’re taking the following vitamins. While ordinarily I’d recommend a food first approach, I’m using these vitamins as back-up in case of a lack of access to fresh food.

Vitamin A: Supports cell growth, it acts as an antioxidant and is critical in maintaining the structure of mucosal cells (like those which line your respiratory and GI tracts). A lack of this vitamin results in poor night vision, keratosis pilaris aka ‘chicken skin’ that appears on the back of arms, dry skin, dry eyes, eczema, psoriasis, hypothyroidism, autoimmune disease and infertility. 

Best food source: Liver (from cows, sheep, chickens, geese, turkeys or fish) followed by egg yolks, it’s a fat soluble compound so requires fat to be absorbed.

Note: Taking Vitamin A along with Vitamins D and K2 significantly reduces the potential risk of vitamin A toxicity.

Vitamin D: Increases intestinal absorption of calcium and is a known immune modulator. If your levels of Vitamin D are outside of the optimal range then your immunity can be compromised which increases your risk of infections. You can find this vitamin in food, sun and supplements. I like the dminder app which calculates how much Vitamin D you’re being exposed to depending on your skin type, location and clothes. This article by Chris Kresser will give you more info on Vitamin D https://chriskresser.com/vitamin-d-the-new-super-nutrient/.

Best food source: Cod liver oil, fish, shellfish, grass-fed meat.

Vitamin K2: Works in synergy with Vitamins A and D. It may prevent toxicity from these other two fat-soluble vitamins.

Best food source: Natto (Japanese fermented soy product), Gouda, Brie, Poultry liver

Vitamin C: Probably the best known vitamin for supporting the immune system. It’s an antioxidant and a cofactor for many enzymatic reactions like producing collagen and neurotransmitters. It’s not stored in the body so we have to obtain it from our diet or supplements as we can’t produce it ourselves. A deficiency results in poor wound healing and fatigue. Good levels of Vitamin C reduces all causes mortality risk. That said, there’s some controversial evidence that large doses of this vitamin can block the actions of anticoagulant drugs. I prefer to take liposomal Vitamin C, but given the cost of purchasing this form I’m choosing to alternate with other types.

Best food source: Red peppers, citrus fruits, kiwis, strawberries, grapefruit.

Vitamin E: Another fat soluble vitamin that’s needed to maintain proper immune function. Are you seeing a theme here?

Best food source: Avocados, olives, nuts and seeds.

Zinc: This mineral is necessary for both the development and function of immune cells. It functions as a cofactor for over 300 enzymes and chemical reactions. Like Vitamin C it can’t be stored in the body and so you need to make sure that you’re consuming it regularly or supplementing. Zinc is a cofactor that helps to convert Vitamin A to its active form.

Best food source: Oysters, red meat, cheese, crab, turkey.

While I would always prefer to obtain these vitamins from food which increases their bio-availability, I’m trying to cover my bases by having them on hand in case of drastic measures such as isolation. You can see that the majority of best food sources come from animal products, so veggies and vegans should be ready to start supplementation. These vitamins and minerals are necessary to support your immune system.