For many of us, the current global pandemic has made our immune health a priority. I’m not going to say the “c” word, frankly we’ve all heard it enough and the word alone creates panic and fear. When we consider appropriate immune support during this time, there’s not yet a lot of evidence-based research because the virus is new. So, in supporting your immune system, as holistic health practitioners we take it back to basics; it’s a respiratory viral infection.
Although research on this specific virus is limited, as Naturopaths we’ve been supporting the immune system against viruses for centuries. We intimately understand and consider how all aspects of an individuals’ health impact the immune system and drive illness.
Of all the tools in our toolbox, today I talk about vitamin D and its role in immune health and respiratory illness.
Why is vitamin D important for my immune function?
Vitamin D is well known for its role is supporting the physical structure of the body – strong bones and strong muscles. However, vitamin D is vital for many other essential functions in the body including the immune function specifically resistance to illness, reducing the severity of infection and reducing inflammation. The working group of the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society, Endocrine Society of Australia and Osteoporosis Australia state that a significant number of Australians are deficient in vitamin D.
Vitamin D is considered an immune system modulator with vitamin D receptors expressed by most cells of the immune system, it up-regulates anti-inflammatory mediators and reduces inflammatory molecules in inflammatory and immune cells (Colotta et. al., 2017). Vitamin D appears capable of inhibiting pulmonary inflammatory responses while enhancing innate defence mechanisms against respiratory pathogens (Hughes & Norton 2009).
Studies report vitamin D deficiency may contribute to increased risk of viral and bacterial infections and susceptibility to illness (Vanherwegen tea.al. 2017). Importantly, research shows a connection between vitamin D status and acute upper respiratory tract infections, with results indicating reduced risk of infection and reduced symptom severity in adults and children with optimal vitamin D levels (Zitterman et. al 2016).
How do I increase my vitamin D levels?
Vitamin D is obtained through the direct exposure of skin to sunlight (90%) and through dietary nutrients (10%) (Australian Government Department of Health, 2020). In my clinical experience, I often see sub-optimal vitamin D levels in pathology reports. Deficiency may be due to a number of reasons including our culture around limiting sun exposure, living in south-eastern states of Australia and low intake of vitamin D containing foods.
With summer behind us and less time in the sun, it’s important we maintain our vitamin D levels to support our immune health and provide resilience against the current global pandemic – a viral respiratory illness. The ideal level of daily sun exposure to aim for in order to support vitamin D synthesis is 6 to 7 minutes mid-morning or mid-afternoon during warmer months, and 7 to 40 minutes at noon during winter (Nowsan et. al., 2012). Arms and shoulders (or legs) should be visible and without protection (Nowsan et. al., 2012).
Very few foods in nature contain vitamin D. The best sources of food to increase in your diet are fatty fish (salmon, tuna, trout, sardines and mackerel) and cod liver oil. Small amounts of vitamin D are found in beef, liver, cheese, mushrooms, and egg yolks. In Australia, some milk, soy drinks, breads and cereals may also be fortified with vitamin D. As you can see, it may be difficult for you to get adequate vitamin D in your diet.
Do I need to take a vitamin D supplement?
Depending on your individual circumstances, you may need to take a vitamin D supplement. However, it’s not wise (or recommended) to rush out and buy an off the shelf vitamin D supplement. You could be doing yourself more harm than good (and wasting your time and money). Not all supplements are the same and the therapeutic dosage depends on your age, weight, health and diet. Also, a vitamin D supplement alone may not be enough because your body requires on key other nutrients to activate it. As with all supplements, there may be interactions and safety concerns with medications and health conditions that need to be considered.
Take the guesswork out of looking after your health. Reach out to your Naturopath or Nutritionist for tailored, professional health advice to support your immune function. Vitamin D may only be one part of the puzzle. We have lots of tools up our sleeve to support your immune health. You can now book in to see me for 30-minute Virtual Immune Health Consults* from the comfort of your own home.
*For preventative immune health only. For more chronic immune or auto-immune conditions please book a 90-minute Initial Consult or 60-minute return consult for existing clients.