Vitamin D and Immune Health – A Word from the Doctor

At this moment, it is more important than ever to maintain a healthy immune system. Proper nutrition, regular exercise, not smoking, managing stress, maintaining an adequate weight, and proper sleep are all lifestyle factors that are recommended for optimal immune health.  In addition to the lifestyle factors listed above, optimal levels of vitamin D are important for a healthy and functioning immune system.  Vitamin D is actually a hormone produced in the skin when we are exposed to sunlight.  Many of us in the Midwest and colder climates spend winters with reduced sun exposure which can lead to reduced D levels. However, even in warmer climates, low vitamin D levels are frequently found in a large percentage of the population.

Vitamin D’s Role in Boosting the Immune System

Most people are familiar with the role of vitamin D in the regulation of calcium and improved bone health.  While that is an important function of vitamin D, what is even more important in our current climate is the role that vitamin D has in a healthy and functioning immune system.  Vitamin D does this in part by stimulating the body’s production of antimicrobial peptides.

There are approximately 200 antimicrobial peptides identified and these are toxic to several viruses, bacteria, and fungi.  Vitamin D is also involved with activation of certain immune cells called T cells which are key actors in the body’s fight against unwanted viruses.  And, you may have heard recently the term “cytokine storm” which is a massive release of inflammatory mediators by the body in response to certain infections.  It has been proposed that the cytokine storm may be one of the mechanisms behind the mortality seen in some Covid-19 patients.

Vitamin D has been shown to reduce the release of cytokines which theoretically may reduce the damage from cytokine storm.  It was reported in a recent study that increased mortality with Covid-19 infection was seen with severely low vitamin D levels.  Is it possible that supplementation with vitamin D may reduce the risk of mortality with infections? We don’t know for sure, but studies are underway to explore this area a bit deeper.

Which Vitamin D Supplement is Best?

Many supplement preparations of Vitamin D are available.  When considering Vitamin D supplementation, it is important to select a high-quality supplement from a reputable manufacturer that has good absorption.  I personally like the liquid form and use it daily myself. Two excellent examples of this are made by Pellecome and Orthomolecular.  For those that prefer the gel tablet, I recommend the Metagenics gel tab. There are a number of other reputable manufacturers that make high quality, non-GMO supplements. Make sure you do your research. The supplement industry is replete with less honest vendors wanting to sell inferior products to you at a premium price!

Of course, one of the best ways to boost your D levels is to go outside and get some sun. And you get the added benefit of improved mood and exercise! Just make sure sunscreen is on!