Vitamin D has been all the buzz lately. But did you know that Vitamin D plays an important role in managing autoimmune diseases? What is this vitamin and how can you use this vitamin to improve your health?
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that we mainly get from the sun, which is why it is known as the “sunshine vitamin” (1). Contrary to its name, Vitamin D functions more like a hormone in the body. Hormones are regulators of many different bodily processes. Vitamin D helps manage bone maintenance and repair, it controls both calcium and phosphate levels in the blood, it contributes to the development of your nervous system and cell growth, and it is important for heart health (2).
Vitamin D also plays a very important role in our immune system function and reducing inflammation. This vitamin helps to reduce pro-inflammatory chemicals that are released during an inflammatory or immune response. It also reduces the creation of inflammatory T-cells that contribute to chronic inflammation (2). Vitamin D helps to regulate tight junctions in the intestinal barrier to prevent leaky gut (1). Vitamin D is also a general marker for health. Low levels of circulating Vitamin D in our blood increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, neuromuscular disorders, autoimmune disorders, and cancer (2).
What is Vitamin D’s Role in Autoimmune Diseases?
The role of Vitamin D in our immune system is important to keep in mind when thinking about autoimmune conditions. In fact, several research studies on different autoimmune diseases show a connection between Vitamin D status and disease onset and progression. Generally speaking, individuals who have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease tend to have lower Vitamin D levels. In some autoimmune diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), Hashimotos Thyroiditis (HT), Graves Disease (GD) and Multiple Sclerosis (MS), those with lower levels of Vitamin D demonstrated an increased intensity of symptoms and disease activity. In some cases, individuals in remission had higher Vitamin D levels than those who were experiencing flares. (2,3)
What Can We Do to Increase Our Vitamin D Levels?
Below are suggestions of ways to optimize your Vitamin D levels.
- Get your Vitamin D levels checked. Since Vitamin D is not a routine lab test, ask to have your levels drawn the next time you do lab work.
- Try to get your Vitamin D through food. The recommended daily amount of Vitamin D for 19-70 year olds is 600 IU and 800 IU for over 70 years of age. Foods rich in Vitamin D include cod liver oil, rainbow trout, sockeye salmon, and fortified milk and cereals.
- Sunlight is your best source, but that comes at a cost. Some experts recommend 5-30 minutes of sunlight twice per week on our face, arms, legs and back between 10am and 3pm. However, this is without sunscreen, which can increase our risk of developing skin cancer. (4). If you are concerned about your sun exposure, seek advice from a qualified health professional or a dermatologist to find the right amount for you.
- If you prefer to avoid the sun and struggle to consistently consume Vitamin D rich foods, supplementation may be your best option. It is very important to speak to your qualified health professional about the appropriate supplementation dosage and schedule. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning that it stores readily in your body. Taking too much Vitamin D increases your risk of developing hypercalcemia, a condition that can weaken bones, create kidney stones, and interfere with your cardiovascular and nervous systems (5). That being said, appropriate Vitamin D supplementation can safely increase your circulating Vitamin D to optimal levels.
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