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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/

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