THERE IS A LOT OF MISINFORMATION and half-truths going around right now about the novel coronavirus. That’s understandable — the virus is very new and doctors and scientists are still learning about how the infection works and the best ways to treat it. However, all experts agree that prevention is better than cure and one way to protect ourselves is by boosting our immune system. 

In this article we will look at the role of Vitamin D in supporting health, as there is undisputable scientific evidence of the important role that Vitamin D plays in support our immunity, as well as extensive data that suggests that the majority of us are deficient in vitamin D, despite the fact that we live in Australia where sunlight is prevalent. So, what is vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a group of fat-soluble secosteroids responsible for increasing intestinal absorption of valuable minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and phosphate, and multiple other biological effects essential for good health. In humans, the most important compounds in this group are vitamin D3 (also known as cholecalciferol).

The major natural source of the vitamin is the synthesis of cholecalciferol in the lower layers of skin epidermis through a chemical reaction that is dependent on sun exposure (specifically UVB radiation). Vitamin D3 can be ingested from the diet and from supplements.

While vitamin D has long been recognised as essential to the skeletal system, the newer research confirms that it also plays a major role regulating the immune system, including immune responses to viral infection, this is why it is a valuable nutrient to consider at this time.

Interventional and observational epidemiological studies provide evidence that vitamin D deficiency may confer an increased risk of influenza and respiratory tract infection. Vitamin D deficiency is also prevalent among patients with HIV infection. Studies also indicate that all cancer patients are vitamin D deficient.

Cell culture experiments support the thesis that vitamin D has direct anti-viral effects, particularly against enveloped viruses. The current thought is that vitamin D’s anti-viral mechanism may be linked to vitamin D’s ability to up-regulate the anti-microbial peptides LL-37 and human beta-defensin 2.

There are a copious amount of scientific studies supporting the importance of vitamin D, however, I want to keep it simple in this article and provide you with a few highlights to help you appreciate its benefits as one of the most important vitamins for both you and your clients.

Although vitamin D can be stored in the fat of your body fat until it is needed, the problem is that it’s not so easy to get enough vitamin D into your body.

The main job of vitamin D is to keep the right amount of calcium and phosphorus in your blood? These are the two important minerals that work together to make your bones strong. If you don’t have vitamin D in your body, only a small amount of the calcium from your diet can be absorbed by your body, and only a little more than half of the phosphorus is absorbed. Without enough calcium and phosphorus being absorbed in your body, your bones would become brittle and break easily.

In terms of beauty, a healthy bone-structure contributes to a more youthful appearance, both for the face and the body.

The Reasons Why Vitamin D Is So Important

On-going research is discovering that while the main role of vitamin D is to keep our bones healthy and prevent them from breaking up, studies are identifying so many other ways that vitamin D can support health.  Let’s take a look at some of them:

  • Reduces the risk of cancer, especially colon cancer, prostate cancer, and breast cancer
  • Reduces the risk of diabetes, especially in young people and in those living in high altitude
  • Protects against heart disease, including high blood pressure and heart failure
  • Reduces your risk for multiple sclerosis
  • Improves your mood
  • Improves your lung function
  • Protects against the development of osteoporosis.

The best way to know if you are getting enough vitamin D is to have a specific blood test. Otherwise, you may not know that you’re not getting enough vitamin D until you start having symptoms associated with vitamin D deficiency. This include, getting frequently skin or infected, fatigue and tiredness, bone and back pain, depression, impaired wound healing and hair loss.  

How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?

While in the past the general recommendation of dose for vitamin D supplementation for adults was 1000IU per day, this has now been revised.

According to the Australian Government Department of Health and additional studies most of us are vitamin D deficient and it has revised its recommendations. They believe that if you don’t get enough exposure to sunlight, all children and adults need approximately 800 to 1000 IU each day.

People who are older than 65 probably need even more than 1000 IU, because they usually don’t spend much time in the sun and their body don’t absorb vitamins the way it used to. And people who are at risk for vitamin D deficiency, and those who are already vitamin D deficient, need even higher levels of the vitamin.  My current recommendation after testing is 10,000 IU.  It really does pay to get tested to determine the level of your deficiency, however, 1000IU daily is considered safe.

What Are the Best Sources?

The best source for vitamin D is, of course, sunlight. Only a few foods supply vitamin D in significant amounts. However, while the best source is the sun, as we know, frequent sun exposure will not only age the skin but also predispose us to skin cancer.  On the other hand, too little sun exposure is the reason that many people today don’t get enough vitamin D.  Another alarming consideration is that the use of daily sunscreen can minimise your vitamin D absorb by 75%. 

Foods that Provide Vitamin D

Only a few foods naturally contain vitamin D, but some foods are fortified with this vitamin. As you will see, this is not good news for vegetarians. Here are some of the best sources:

FOODSERVING SIZEVITAMIN D, IU
Cod liver oil1 Tablespoon1360
Salmon, cooked100g360
Mackerel, cooked100g345
Sardines, canned in oil and drained40g250
Tuna fish, canned in oil90 g200
Milk (skim, low fat, whole), vitamin D fortified1 cup98
Butter1 Tablespoon60
Egg1 whole20
Liver or beef, cooked3 ½ 100 g15
Cheese, Swiss30 g12

As you can see cod liver oil is one of the best sources of vitamin D.  If you dislike the taste you should be able to find flavoured versions that can make ingesting it more palatable.  Alternatively, it can access cod liver oil in capsule form.

WHO IS AT RISK OF VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY?

If you belong to any of the following groups, you may be at risk of vitamin D deficiency, in which case you should ask your doctor to for the vitamin D test:

  • Infants who are only breastfed or who get less than 2 cups each day of vitamin D-fortified formula or milk
  • People with dark skin (which doesn’t absorb the sunlight as well as light skin)
  • People who don’t get a lot of exposure to sunlight
  • People who use sunscreen often
  • Older people are at very high risk, in part because ageing skin doesn’t absorb sunlight as well as younger skin
  • People who are obese
  • People who have medical conditions that interfere with their body’s ability to absorb fat, such as cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, or pancreatitis
  • People who have liver or kidney problems
  • People who live in the northern hemisphere in the winter months
  • People who take certain medicines, like anti-seizure drugs or steroids.

New studies reveal that the body can handle doses as high as 10,000 IU (250 μg) per day for several months, while numerous studies confirm the major role that vitamin D plays in mediating the immune system’s response to infection.  On-going studies are continuing to further understand this nutrient as the vast literature on vitamin D includes reviews on many topics including its effects on innate immunity, cardiovascular health, and cancer.