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Vitamin D

Vitamin D vs. The Scary-Gonna-Get-Us-All Flu

Vitamin D is a superstar. Here`s what you need to know about this vitally important nutrient, including how to make certain you`re getting enough vitamin D to protect your health. Although it was discovered nearly 100 years ago, vitamin D was long believed to have only one important role, maintaining healthy bones. As a result, it was added to milk in the 1930s, as a way to combat the high incidence of rickets in children and then pretty much forgotten.

How things change! During the past decade, a steady stream of news from researchers all over the world is proving that vitamin D helps protect us against such serious health concerns as cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, several types of cancer (including breast, colon and prostate), diabetes, emotional difficulties such as depression and bipolar disorder, muscle function, gum health, and innate immune function.

Vitamin D supports better brain function in older individuals, according to the findings of a recent clinical trial. Researchers at Tufts University found the best cognitive test scores among subjects with high blood levels of the nutrient. Those with high levels of vitamin D were better at “executive functions,” such as organizing, planning and thinking in the abstract.

Vitamin D`s role in how well our muscles operate was underscored by a new study showing that low levels of the nutrient during pregnancy makes a woman four times more likely to have a cesarean section. The same researchers were also struck by separate findings showing that fully three-fourths of the women in the study and their babies had low vitamin D levels, even though they had been taking prenatal vitamins and drinking vitamin D-fortified milk while pregnant. Coincidentally, a new study from Turkey found that infants with low vitamin D levels are more vulnerable to developing respiratory infections.

Add prostate cancer to the list of cancers vitamin D may help protect against. Findings reported in the British Journal of Cancer show that the disease resulted in six times fewer fatalities for men with the most vitamin D in their bodies when compared to men with lower levels.

There`s more news on the cancer front, too. A recent review of research involving vitamin D, cancer and sunlight (ultraviolet B or UVB) concluded that sun-associated vitamin D was linked to lower levels of colon and breast cancers, as well as kidney and ovarian cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

As you no doubt know, exposure to sunlight causes vitamin D to be produced in your skin. But only a portion of the solar spectrum, known as ultraviolet B (UVB), has this effect. Other parts of the solar spectrum can have very different and even harmful effects. UVA can cause cancerous mutations, and can also break down the vitamin D formed in your skin after outdoor UVB exposure. However, we do have a natural fail-safe: when you’re exposed to the sun, the UVB rays cause vitamin D to be produced in your skin while the UVA rays in the sunlight will tend to destroy excessive levels of vitamin D circulating in your body.

The New Influenza Model:

“Flu season” in temperate climates is winter. Vitamin D is essential to innate immunity, and since most of our vitamin D is made by exposure to UVB radiation from the sun, we need to supplement in the winter, or our innate immunity will be compromised.

It is now believed that much of the population carries various strains of the influenza virus year-round. During the summer months vitamin D is plentiful and our innate immunity can keep the virus in check. As winter approaches, vitamin D stores drop and the virus gains the upper hand. That is when people get the flu and spread it.

Vitamin D′s Mode of Action:

The adaptive immune system a match for any pathogen, but that process takes time. The innate immune system, on the other hand, produces antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) with broad-spectrum antimicrobial effects against intact microbes and “Pathogen-Associated Molecular Patterns (PAMPs)”. These AMPs will not be a match for every pathogen, but when they are, the innate immune system springs into action immediately.

The influenza virus is spread by coughing and sneezing, and has to be inhaled. The epithelia in the upper airways are surrounded by a thin aqueous layer of AMPs covered by mucus. This double layer of antimicrobial peptides and mucus creates an antimicrobial shield that rapidly and irreversibly damages the membranes of virus particles that penetrate it.

Viruses that somehow make it through that shield to the endothelium induce endothelial cells to emit a burst of new antimicrobial peptides. These inducible AMPs bind to the carbohydrate portion of a viral glycoprotein, hemagglutinin A, thereby blocking the fusion between virion (virus particle) and endothelial cell; the virion can no longer penetrate the endothelium. The inducible AMPs also recruit macrophages and other white blood cells to limit further damage and clean up the debris.

Where does vitamin D come into the picture? When microbes like the influenza virus end up in the upper airways, they stimulate the production of an enzyme that converts 25(OH)D, the circulating inactive form of vitamin D, into the hormonally active 1,25(OH)2D (1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D). 1,25(OH)2D is required to turn on the genes that code for antimicrobial peptides. Without vitamin D there is no innate immunity.

Vitamin D Recommendations:

The amount of 2000 IU/day is considerably higher than the current recommendations from the Food and Nutrition Board of the U.S. Institute of Medicine: 200 IU/day from birth to age 50, 400 IU/day from 50 to 70, and 600 IU/day for anyone over 70. These amounts were recommendations given to combat rickets in the early 1930’s v.

Experts in the field now believe that 25(OH)D blood concentrations should at least be 50 ng/ml (nanograms per milliliter), the level normally reached by sun exposure during the summer months. In the flu season, when there simply isn′t enough sunlight, supplementation with at least 2000 IU/day to 5000 IU/day is needed to get to that level. Based on the most recent research, the current recommendation is 35 IU’s of vitamin D per pound of body weight per day. If symptoms of the flu arise, it is recommended to take 8000 IU to 12,000 IU/day.

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