Vitamin D and Inflammation - an Important Link as we Shift Seasons
Many of us love the feeling of the sun shining on our skin. And how great is it that our bodies produce their own reserve of Vitamin D naturally when we’re exposed to sunlight?
The human body never ceases to amaze with the orchestration of biochemical reactions and the body’s quest for equilibrium or homeostasis. The body wants to be in balance!
You probably wouldn’t guess that an insufficiency of this key nutrient has been linked to many cancers, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression, fibromyalgia, chronic muscle pain, bone loss, and autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis.
It’s a vitamin that actually acts as a hormone in the body, that is almost absent from our food supply and is the hidden cause of so much suffering.
Unfortunately, by limiting our time in the sun due to busy schedules, sun safety and overactive sunscreen protocols, most of us don’t receive enough sun exposure to ensure our vitamin D level is high enough and so it turns out, many individuals are vitamin D deficient.
The Role of this Important Nutrient
The role of vitamin D in the human body cannot be understated. Getting enough vitamin D is important for the growth and development of bones and teeth, as well as improved resistance to certain diseases. It is crucial for regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorus and facilitating bone health, especially as we age, and it plays a critical role in the treatment of a variety of diseases and disorders.
Due to its link to normal immune system function, making sure you are getting enough vitamin D is especially important as we move into the cooler months when colds and flu become more prevalent and our exposure to sunlight may be significantly less than in summer.
Inflammation, Vitamin D and COVID
According to Dr. Mark Hyman of the Institute for Functional Medicine, ‘one study showed 80% of 200 COVID patients at a hospital in Spain were deficient in vitamin D, with men having lower levels than women. This was also linked to higher inflammatory blood markers which we know lead to an increased risk for chronic disease.
There are other clinical examples that show low vitamin D status in those with COVID-19 leads to an increased severity of symptoms and a higher risk of death. We also already know that vitamin D supplementation can reduce the risk of acute respiratory tract infections and that it plays an important role in immune function, so it makes sense that we should be paying attention to it amidst this virus that is known to attack the respiratory system.’
While acute inflammation is a good thing as the body’s natural response to injury, chronic inflammation left unmanaged is responsible for up to 80% of all disease. It’s also to blame for ongoing symptoms for people with asthma, arthritis, auto-immune disease, cancer and more.
Scientists have discovered that cells with low vitamin D created more of an inflammatory response compared to those with adequate levels which could be the crucial link and so it should be getting our attention.
Vitamin D and Immune Function
Because vitamin D deficiency has been associated with reduced immune function and may enhance ‘cytokine storms,’ (a severe immune system reaction to infection, autoimmune condition, or other disease, including some cancers), some research shows that a vitamin D deficiency may increase the risk of severe COVID-19 complications and that vitamin D supplementation may reduce complications related to cytokine storms and uncontrolled inflammation in people with COVID-19. An immune response normally operates under strict controls, ramping up to fight disease and standing down with the job is done. With cytokine storm, the response is out of proportion, resulting in impaired function and damaged tissue. While taking supplemental vitamin D alone can’t protect you from developing COVID-19, being deficient in vitamin D may increase your susceptibility to overall infection and disease by harming immune function.
Vitamin D and Mood
While more research is needed, the good news is that getting your vitamin D level within a healthy range may not only help fight disease, but it may also make you feel better. Some research shows that vitamin D might play an important role in regulating mood and decreasing the risk of depression which may be why it literally feels so good to spend time in the sun!
One study showed that those with negative emotions who received vitamin D supplements noticed an improvement in symptoms and that vitamin D supplementation may help people with depression who also have a vitamin D deficiency.
And low levels of vitamin D during pregnancy are connected to postpartum depression which can happen in the days, weeks, and months after giving birth.
Factors that Impact Vitamin D Absorption
These factors may make you less likely to absorb enough vitamin D from the sun:
- age – as we age, we absorb less
- sunscreen usage
- time indoors
- buildings blocking sunlight
- having darker skin - higher melanin makes for less vitamin D your skin can absorb
Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency
The symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency in adults include:
- tiredness, aches, and pains
- severe bone or muscle pain or weakness
- stress fractures, especially in your legs, pelvis, and hips
Quick Tips for Getting Optimal Levels of Vitamin D
- Get tested and supplement if needed
- Take the right type of vitamin D. Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is the only active form. Many vitamins use vitamin D2 which is not biologically active
- Take it with Vitamin K2. Vitamin K helps the body use calcium by shuttling it to your bones. Increasing one’s intake of vitamin D without enough vitamin K may cause an increase in calcium levels without the ability to use it effectively, which can raise the risk of depositing calcium in arteries and soft tissue. This may lead to an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, and even stroke.
- Take the right amount of vitamin D – check with your doctor or practitioner
- Monitor your vitamin D status until you are in the optimal range. It can take time if you’re deficient
- Dietary sources of vitamin D include fish liver oils, such as cod liver oil, cooked wild salmon, pastured eggs, herring and sardines, mushrooms (D2)
Optimal Levels of Vitamin D
There has been some debate over the amount of vitamin D required for optimal functioning. Recent studies indicate that we need more vitamin D than previously thought.
Blood serum levels considered adequate range from 50–140 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L). Some believe a more optimum level is 120-180 nmol/L
As a health coach, I’m always suggesting ways clients can minimise their inflammatory load, through food, stress reduction, detoxing, exercise, and lifestyle shifts that can greatly impact their overall health.
As you can see, the power of vitamin D is of vital importance and for this reason, we want to keep our vitamin D levels in mind as we enter into cold and flu season, not only because it’s essential for the immune system but also because we have even less of it in the colder months as less time is spent outdoors in the sun. Supplementing can be a great way to ensure you’re getting enough of this important nutrient once you’ve determined if it’s appropriate for you.
If you haven’t had your blood tested lately, it’s a great time to review this with your GP. It’s valuable to have a benchmark of all your blood levels even if you’re feeling well, just for future reference to ensure all your key nutrient levels are where they need to be to keep your immune system working hard for you and so you can feel your best.
When every system of the body has the nutrients it needs and is working as it was designed to without the outside influence of inflammation, we feel healthy and vibrant and that is optimum health.