The sunshine vitamin, also known as vitamin D, has been famous for years. It impacts bone health, teeth health, joint health, heart health, metabolism, inflammation, and immune health. The evidence is becoming clear that vitamin D levels matter now more than ever because of the immune supportive effects.
In fact, it’s key for innate immunity and helps the body to fight viral infections. This is because vitamin D has an immune modulating effect that lowers inflammation. This mechanism may be why infections and the resulting cytokine storms are affected by vitamin D.
Vitamin D and Respiratory Infections
There is ample evidence that shows respiratory infections are more common in those with lower vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to be higher in those with more severe respiratory illness. These patients were eight times more likely to have severe illness than those with adequate vitamin D levels.
In 2017, the British Medical Journal published a meta-analysis that showed vitamin D supplementation was associated with significant decrease in both upper and lower respiratory infections. There was a 70% lower risk of respiratory infection in those with extremely low vitamin D levels when proper supplementation of the vitamin was given.
In September 2020, JAMA Network Open published a report that vitamin D status has a role in COVID-19 risk. Lead author David Meltzer, MD, PhD, and chief of hospital at University of Chicago Medicine, says, “Vitamin D is important to the function of the immune system and vitamin D supplements have previously been shown to lower the risk of viral respiratory tract infections. Our statistical analysis suggests this may be true for the COVID-19 infection.”
How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?
The questions are often asked, “How much should I be taking?” and “What type?” These questions are valid, but it is hard to give a blanket statement answer because everyone is different. Your geographic location, genetics, lifestyle, and existing baseline levels matter when answering these questions. Those living in Seattle need more vitamin D than those living in Los Angeles. Those with inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome need more vitamin D than those with no GI distress.
Generally, getting some outdoor light exposure is a safe way to increase your vitamin D levels. You can increase the body’s production of the vitamin naturally, just from the sunlight exposure. Being outside is getting increasingly hard with social distancing rules, cold temperatures and rain. There are also individuals that are not able to sufficiently synthesize the vitamin in their skin. This is when we have to rely on other sources of vitamin D.
There are some food sources of vitamin D, but they are mostly from fortified foods, meaning it has been added back chemically. These sources include fortified dairy and cereal. These food options are not healthy choices for many with dairy and gluten sensitivities. Fatty fish and sun-dried mushrooms are food sources that have naturally occurring vitamin D sources, but arguably not much. It is also important to consider that not everyone has access to frequent quality fish and mushroom food sources, so this recommendation should not be given alone.
This is where we turn to supplementation. Oral supplementation comes in many types and dosages. Let’s talk about quality first. Supplements are not well regulated by the FDA. This means that a bottle labeled it contains x amount of vitamin D doesn’t have to prove to anyone it contains that amount.
Time and time again, supplement companies are getting caught and prosecuted for selling fake or mislabeled products. The best way to know you are getting what the bottle actually says it contains is to use a third-party verified product. This means an outside laboratory has tested and confirmed that the product has what it says it contains.
As if that wasn’t enough to consider, just containing the correct labeled dosage doesn’t mean it’s a quality product. There can be additional fillers and preservatives that are added to the product that you may not want to be taking. Then you get into the difficult fact that fat-soluble supplements can be hard to create in a truly absorbable form and need to be specially formulated to ensure maximum delivery. This is why physician brands are a great option when considering a brand of supplement to use. Some physician favorites include but are not limited to Douglas Labs, Ortho Molecular, Designs for Health, and Pure Encapsulations.
Want to know if your vitamin D is a good quality brand or where you can find better quality options? Sign up for a free, 15-minute phone consultation here.
About the Author
Dr. Alexa is a Naturopathic physician in Washington and Medical Director at Virasoap. Over the years, Dr. Alexa has seen the tremendous impact that IV treatment has on her patients and is an advocate for expert application. Dr. Alexa uses her education in clinical nutrition to further the impact of her immune-support protocols and has treated hundreds of conditions and thousands of patients in both primary and specialty care settings. She is passionate about her patients and advocates for how complementary, alternative and functional medicine can support anyone in any walk of life.