I’m constantly letting you all know that if you write into the Great Green Wall, we’ll read and respond. And sometimes, I’ll even answer your questions with a full article. This is just such a case. When reading about my articles on the Benefits of Vitamin D, and the risks of insufficient intake, someone wanted to know more about Vitamin D and the Immune System. Specifically, they wanted to know if it was worth it to take a supplement just for that.
I’m always trying to get people the most straightforward responses I can, and if someone doesn’t need to spend extra money, I won’t say they should. But in this case, it may be worth it to go ahead and grab a Vitamin D supplement–because as we’ll see, the benefits definitely outweigh the costs and risks.
What You Need to Know
How VDRs Work
Scientists have long been aware that there is a correlation between Immune System health and adequate Vitamin D intake. But in science, a correlation doesn’t mean a cause. For example, I notice more birds in the morning when it’s sunny; the birds’ presence doesn’t cause the sunshine, in fact it’s the opposite.
But recent lab studies using isolated Immune Cells have proved that Vitamin D does indeed benefit the Immune System. The question then was “How?”
It turned out that by putting individual lymphocytes through tests, scientists identified receptors (VDR) that trigger the cells to action in the presence of Vitamin D.
These same receptors have been seen in subsequent laboratory experiments. They help macrophages (large cells that “consume” infections and other harmful cells in our bodies), and even help boost the infection-killing power of white blood cells.
In B-Cells, VDRs actually tell lymphocytes to stop reproducing, but they do so without affecting their efficacy. These lymphocytes are the same ones that over replicate and turn into cancer. This means that adequate Vitamin D, attached to VDRs in lymphocytes, can keep our Immune System functioning without going into the hyperdrive that causes tumors.
Many of these functions are still being researched, but it appears that one of the primary receptor molecules our Immune System looks for is Vitamin D. It helps maintain homeostasis–meaning the cells that need to stay active stay active, and the ones that need a leash are kept in check.
What it All Means
Let's break this down:
Resistance to Infection
Before much of the data from direct experimentation had been collected, epidemiologists had already confirmed that Vitamin D helps fight off infections. That is to say that before VDR research, experts were already calling for more Vitamin D intake, across the globe. Supplementing your diet, today, can help get you a stronger defense against everything from the common cold to more serious problems like preventing tuberculosis.
Almost everyone is familiar with inflammation, on some level. We get a burr stuck in our skin from a walk through the woods, our skin turns red and swells up. Our ankle gets twisted and now our shoe doesn’t fit. What many of us may not know is that inflammation is caused by overactive cells called Cytokines.
Some of the inflammation is necessary, to surge nutrients, blood, and antibodies to the wounded area. But too much inflammation, as we all know, is painful and counter-productive. Well, in laboratory experiments and in human studies, VDRs on the Cytokine cells can actually turn the Cytokines off after the right amount of activity. Translation? Only the inflammation your body needs, and no more.
Prevention of AutoImmune Diseases
If you’re not familiar, AutoImmune Diseases are a wide-range of afflictions wherein the body literally attacks itself. By helping regulate the immune response of individual cells through their VDRs, Vitamin D supplementation can actually prevent the onset of a number of AutoImmune disorders.
Diabetes Type 1
Unlike Diabetes Type 2, Type 1 means your body makes no insulin whatsoever. Recent scholarship showed that young adults diagnosed with Type 1 had lower levels of Vitamin D in their blood, so low that they hypothesized lack of Vitamin D may have caused the disease.
We’ve all seen the TV ad spots for Rheumatoid Arthritis medications, and the side effects can be daunting. How about a preventative measure? It turns out RA may be averted by getting enough Vitamin D.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Perhaps one of the most well-known AutoImmune Diseases, IBS affects millions of people. One correlative study suggested the link between inadequate Vitamin D and IBS was so strong it could be considered for therapeutic uses.
There really is no debate in the scientific and medical communities: Vitamin D does boost the Immune System. And more to the point, researchers are more and more discovering the exact processes by which it does so. Through activation of VDRs throughout our body, Vitamin D can help keep killer cells killing without triggering inflammation, tumors, or AutoImmune Diseases. Overall a win-win, with nothing to lose. So go enjoy some cod liver oil–or sunshine, I suppose.