Health in the 21st Century
In today’s world we are searching for ways to become optimally healthy and that includes an immune system that is both effective AND tolerant. Functional Medicine looks at ways to create health through natural and effective evidence based therapy including vital nutrients like vitamin D. Vitamin D is an important ingredient for health and the immune system. We want an immune system that is effective against potential pathogens and tolerant of our own tissues, the foods we eat and the chemicals we are exposed to daily in our environment. How do we keep that happening? Vitamin D is one of the many known answers.
The Sunshine Vitamin
It has long been known that appropriate sunshine exposure is good for health and protective against infection. One of the mechanisms is through optimizing vitamin D levels in the body. Eighty percent of our vitamin D can be made through the skin from the sun. In order for sun exposure to allow optimal needed levels, we would need to have minimal clothing coverage, no sunscreen and get daily sun exposure for many hours depending on the latitude in which we live. Of course, many of us simply cannot do these simple things for obvious reasons and are simply not protected from sunburn. Sunburn, not exposures, can cause increased risk of damage and subsequent skin cancer. Still, optimal levels of vitamin D are needed to help fight infection, benefit bone health, and protect against an overaggressive immune response and autoimmunity as well as protect against some forms of cancer.
Literally thousands of studies have evaluated the potential benefits of vitamin D with very few showing any harm. It is important to note, that many studies did not show benefit possibly because they did not monitor levels and merely just had the subjects take a prescribed dose for a period of time. In my mind, this does not address the individual variability in how we assimilate vitamin D in our bodies nor how we absorb it through the gut. Since Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin more will be absorbed if taken with an oil containing food to help with absorption. Furthermore, personal absorption capabilities are different in different individuals due to suboptimal gut health and inflammation and absorption capabilities. If you don’t absorb it, it does not work! That is why it is so important to check levels on a regular basis. Every person has an optimal dose. Furthermore, variable sun exposure and diets can make for a difficult precise daily amount.
Vitamin D in the Body
Vitamin D enters through the gut or is made in the skin. Vitamin D3, or 25- hydroxy D3 is then made in the liver by enzymes which is further converted into 1,25 di-hydroxy D3 in the kidneys. In those individuals with renal failure, 1,25 dihydroxy levels should be measured and replaced adequately to protect these susceptible individuals.
Vitamin D and the Immune System
Most are familiar with vitamin D and bone health, but many are unaware of how important vitamin D is for our immune system. Vitamin D is a regulator of appropriate immune activation and deactivation responses causing an important switch in response to the need. Once activated, vitamin D goes to work on the immune system by increasing the numbers of macrophages and some slight increase in neutrophils. The macrophages are part of the immune system that help us to gobble up invaders/infections through a process called phagocytosis. This process does not promote further inflammation and gets rid of pathogens.
Antibacterial Benefits of Vitamin D
Vitamin D also helps our systems to make Cathelicidin which is an antimicrobial chemical decreasing and actively killing bacteria. It further helps regulate dendritic cells which are the cells in the immune system responsible for increasing problems with autoimmunity. Also, vitamin D turns down the levels of a substance called MMP-9 which is responsible for causing tissue destruction. When an infection is present and the cell danger response (The Cell Danger Response- the key to healing ) is activated certain enzymes increase to cause breakdown of vitamin D, which then allows for increase of MMP-9. This MMP-9 substance actually allows tissue destruction to penetrate through our tissue and bone to help fight infection!! Isn’t our immune system amazing!!!
Considerations for the future
While ongoing research is currently underway, it is believed that some of these regulatory responses of adequate Vitamin D levels may help decrease the incidence of cytokine storm with Covid 19. Cytokine storm happens when we fail to identify the virus as an invader, it replicates and then causes runaway immune and inflammatory responses. The field of functional Medicine and Immunology are looking at ways to use natural compounds to help the immune system self regulate. Vitamin D is a basic yet very important compound that is involved with literally thousands of reactions within our body. Making sure your levels are adequate are so important in today’s environment.
Get your vitamin D and health levels optimal! Inquire today at Dr. Jennifer Kessmann M. D.