The importance of vitamin D in supporting the immune system

Researchers from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) have released a crucial report which shines a light on the role of vitamin D and unveils shocking levels of deficiency in older people in Ireland. The team, based at Trinity College in Dublin, concluded that Vitamin D supplementation was necessary for those over the age of 50 and those currently shielding. They also highlighted a range of studies showing vitamin D plays a role in the prevention of respiratory infections, boosting the immune system response to infections and reducing the need for antibiotic use. 

The study, titled Vitamin D deficiency in Ireland – implications for COVID-19, used data from wave 1 of The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), which started back in 2009. This was a prospective study of 8,172 adults aged 50 years and older in Ireland living in the community – not in care homes or hospitals. The participants were personally interviewed and their answers on their socio-demographic status, physical, mental and behavioural health recorded. 72% of the participants consented to a health assessment and of those, 91% submitted a blood sample for vitamin D level assessment (5,382 people). 

The data revealed that of those aged 55+ years in the Republic of Ireland, 1 in 5 are vitamin D deficient during the winter and 1 in 12 during the summer. This rises to nearly 30% of those aged 70+ and 47% of those aged 85+. These are the age groups considered to be ‘extremely medically vulnerable’ to adverse health outcomes of COVID-19 and have been advised to participate in ‘cocooning’ (known as ‘shielding’ in the UK) during the pandemic.

The researchers also considered the findings of a range of medical studies into the role of Vitamin D in immune function and immune response to infection. One such study in 2017 carried out by Vanherwegen AS, Gysemans C, Mathieu looked at regulation of immune function by vitamin D and its use in diseases of immunity.

Principal Investigator of TILDA Rose Anne Kenny comments:

“We have evidence to support a role for Vitamin D in the prevention of chest infections, particularly in older adults who have low levels. In one study Vitamin D reduced the risk of chest infections to half in people who took supplements. Though we do not know specifically of the role of Vitamin D in COVID infections, given its wider implications for improving immune responses and clear evidence for bone and muscle health, those cocooning and other at-risk cohorts should ensure they have an adequate intake of Vitamin D.”

The researchers concluded that adults aged over 50 should take Vitamin D supplements, and not just in winter, but all year round if they don’t get enough sun.


Altruvita’s high quality Vitamin D supplement is from cholecalciferol and provides around 500% of the adult daily requirement for health.

Can Vitamin D help you right now?

As governments around the world battle the COVID-19 pandemic, public health measures that can reduce the risk of infection and death in addition to lockdowns and social distancing are desperately needed. Here at Altruvita we’re constantly reading about the latest clinical trials and studies looking at the impact of micronutrients, nutrition and vitamin deficiencies on health.

An article published by a team based in the US and Hungary reviewed the roles of vitamin D in reducing the risk of respiratory tract infections, knowledge about the epidemiology of influenza and COVID-19 and how vitamin D supplementation might be a useful measure to reduce risk. 

Vitamin D is already known to reduce risk of infections through several mechanisms. Those mechanisms include lowering viral replication rates and reducing concentrations of pro-inflammatory chemicals that produce the inflammation that injures the lining of the lungs, leading to pneumonia.

Evidence supporting the role of vitamin D blood levels in reducing risk of COVID-19 infection includes that fact that the outbreak occurred in winter, a time when vitamin D concentrations are lowest. Note that the number of cases now in the southern hemisphere near the end of their summer are low (for example in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa). Cases have been higher than in areas which are most likely to have vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D deficiency has been found to contribute to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS); and that case-fatality rates increase with age and with chronic disease comorbidity, both of which are associated with lower 25(OH)D concentration. 

According to national surveys in the UK, across the population approximately 1 in 5 people are thought to have low vitamin D levels and are deficient (defined as serum levels below 25 nmol/L). Patients with levels 25 nmol/L to 50 nmol/L are classed as insufficient.

The UK has been lucky to enjoy sunny weather since the start of the lockdown, an end to the heavy rain of the winter just gone. Those of us who are lucky enough to be able to get out in our gardens or take a daily walk outside are now getting an opportunity to soak up some sunshine. Between late March/early April and September, the majority of people aged 5 years and above will probably obtain sufficient vitamin D from sunlight when they are outdoors, alongside foods that naturally contain or are fortified with vitamin D.

However, the authors of the review suggest that the goal should be to raise 25(OH)D concentrations above 100-150 nmol/L, which is way higher than just obtaining sufficient levels (anything over 50 nmol/L). The only way to achieve this fast enough during the peak of the this pandemic is to do everything – get out in the sun, eat vitamin D rich foods and take a supplement.

Some studies have reported that vitamin D supplementation reduced the risk of influenza, whereas others studies did not. To reduce the risk of infection, the authors of this paper advised that people at risk of influenza and/or COVID-19 consider taking 10,000 IU/d of vitamin D3 for a few weeks to rapidly raise 25(OH)D concentrations, followed by 5000 IU/d. For treatment of people who become infected with COVID-19, higher vitamin D3 doses might be useful. Randomised controlled trials and large population studies should be conducted to evaluate these recommendations.

Vitamin D supports the immune system.* Explore Altruvita’s Vitamin D supplement and the rest of our Immune Support range – just click hereOur Vitamin D is from cholecalciferol and provides around 500% of the adult daily requirement for health.

* EU REGISTERS ON NUTRITION AND HEALTH CLAIMS

Reference:

Grant WB, Lahore H, McDonnell SL et al. Evidence that Vitamin D Supplementation Could Reduce Risk of Influenza and COVID-19 Infections and Deaths. Nutrients. 2020 Apr 2;12(4). pii: E988. doi: 10.3390/nu12040988.

Why is Vitamin D so important for our health?

sunlight

At a time when it’s crucial to have a healthy immune system, both to help prevent infections and support our body in recovering when we do get ill, we wanted to share some facts and important information with you about vitamin D. 

How do our bodies get vitamin D?

In humans, around 90% of the vitamin D we need is synthesised in the skin when we are exposed to sunlight and the other 10% is obtained from certain foods. The former is why it is sometimes referred to as the ‘sunshine vitamin’! The amount of vitamin D that we produce is influenced by the latitude we live at, the time of year it is, the time of day we tend to venture outside, whether we are wearing sunscreen and the natural pigmentation of our skin. 

For example, during the winter months in the UK (and anywhere else above the northerly latitude of 35 degrees) the UVB rays from the sun don’t penetrate all the way down to our skin, so we can’t make vitamin D. That’s why Public Health England recommends that all adults and children (over the age of 1) should take a vitamin D supplement throughout autumn and winter.

Why is vitamin D so important?

When our bodies get vitamin D (from either the skin’s exposure to sunlight or food) they turn it into a hormone called activated vitamin D or calciferol. This works to help to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphorus in our bodies for healthy bones, muscles and teeth. 

Did you know that even if you get plenty of calcium in your diet (from sources such as milk and leafy green vegetables), your body can’t absorb it unless you have enough vitamin D?  That means that a lack of vitamin D can lead to bone deformities such as rickets in children, and a bone condition called osteomalacia in adults. 

Activated vitamin D also contributes to the normal function of the immune system and the process of cell division. If you are keen to support your immune system function at this time, it’s worth considering if you are likely to be getting enough vitamin D. 

Who is at risk of vitamin D deficiency?

  • People who are unable to go out much during the daytime in those all-important spring and summer months, such as office workers, the housebound, and night shift or factory workers. 
  • People who cover most of their skin with clothing when they go outside, even during the warmer weather.
  • People over 65, because their skin is not as good at making vitamin D. 
  • Now that self-isolation and social distancing measures are part of our day-to-day life, we all need to keep an eye on the amount of sunlight we get.   

Which foods can we get Vitamin D from?

As mentioned above, the best source of vitamin D is when our bodies are exposed to sunlight and make it for us, but we can get a small amount by eating certain foods as well. 

The most common food sources of vitamin D include: 

  • Oily fish such as sardines, salmon, pilchards, trout, herring and kippers.
  • Eggs – mainly from the yolk, so be careful if you’re keen on egg white omelette! 
  • Red meat, though this will vary depending on what kind of meat and the time of year it is produced. 
  • Milk – again, it can depend on the time of year
  • Fortified products such as cereals, some dairy products and soy milk.

Altruvita’s high-strength vitamin D supplement

Along with vitamin C and selenium, vitamin D helps to support a healthy immune system, along with the other important roles it plays in our body. Shop Altruvita’s high-quality cholecalciferol vitamin D supplement here

How to support your immune system

There has never been a more important time to be proactive with our nutrition, with the aim of supporting the very best immune system defence.

Our immune systems play a role not only in fighting off infections, but also in promoting tissue repair to recovery. To function properly, our immune system requires plenty of both macro and micronutrients.

To help support your health over the next few months, we’ve put together a few diet and lifestyle pointers to keep you going in this worrying time.

Avoid strenuous exercise

Moderate-intensity exercise can be protective against illness by boosting the immune system, whereas high-intensity sessions actually compromise the immune system. Our immune system takes a hit for up to 72 hours following high-intensity training, making this a key time for susceptibility. This is especially important to note if you exercise in a class with others, where you’re more likely to pick up bacteria and viruses.

Let yourself sleep, rest and recover

Rest and recovery are key to prevent getting ill and further unwanted illness. If you’re always on the go with minimal rest, your immune system can be compromised long term. Poor sleep can affect the immune system and make you more susceptible to infection or illness. Sometimes it’s hard to stop, particularly when the future feels so uncertain, but don’t ever underestimate the importance of rest and relaxation! Run a hot bath, read a book, get a massage or listen to relaxing music every now and again.

Don’t drink excessive amounts of alcohol

Excessive chronic intake of alcohol can decrease the number of a few white blood cells types, which means that your immune system will not be as able to fight off any bugs. Keeping within the alcohol guidelines will help, which in the UK is currently set at 14 units per week. That’s 6 pints of beer or 6 glasses of wine if that’s your preferred tipple. If you do prefer to round off the week with a few drinks you could pick drinks with healthy, vitamin-packed mixers such as orange, tomato or pineapple juice.

It’s not the time to diet

If you are unlucky enough to pick up an infection, you will need plenty of energy to fight it off. That means that it might not be the wisest time to start a calorie reduced diet – unless of course you have a pressing health issue that means you need to lose weight urgently. Low intakes of carbohydrates such as bread, rice and potatoes, which end up as glucose in the blood, can be a contributing factor to impaired immunity.

Keep well hydrated

Unfortunately, being dehydrated can also contribute to a compromised immune system. Still at this time of year when there’s still a bit of a nip on the air, it’s easy to forget to drink. One of the front-line defences in our immune systems are the immune proteins in our saliva. When we’re dehydrated, the levels of these proteins decreases, meaning our initial defence to bugs entering through the mouth is also decreased. Make sure you don’t wait to feel thirsty before you drink up, carry a water bottle with you (everywhere!) and keep sipping throughout the day.

Taste the Rainbow

Fruit and vegetables contain a wide range of different micronutrients with varying roles within the body. Many of these nutrients are involved in immune function such as iron, vitamins C and D, selenium and zinc. Anyone with even mild deficiencies in any of these micronutrients can have an altered immune response.

The easiest way to ensure you’re getting enough micronutrients and other phytochemicals is to consume a wide variety of different fruit and vegetables. Taste the rainbow- choose different coloured and textured fruit and veg every single day!

Vitamin Supplements

Vitamin C, vitamin D and selenium all help to support a healthy immune system. Not everyone can eat enough to get these micronutrients (or get enough sun in a UK winter), so consider taking a food supplement if you are lacking some antioxidant or immune protection. Contrary to popular belief, huge doses of vitamin C are not required in winter. At doses of say 400-500mg a day, the excess vitamin C is simply excreted in urine, making it literally money down the toilet!

In summary: consume enough antioxidants to support your immune system, sleep well, drink plenty (but not too many drinks of the alcoholic kind), avoid strenuous activity and wash your hands before eating to stay well.

Super selenium, the lesser-known immune system hero

At the moment we are all keen to maintain good health and do our best to support our immune systems. There’s adhering to lockdown rules, washing our hands, not touching our faces and getting plenty of sleep. But what are the nutrients and vitamins hidden in our food which enable our bodies to effectively fight bacteria and viruses if we get exposed to them? You’ve probably heard of vitamin C in relation to immunity; perhaps vitamin D too… but what about selenium? Is this lesser-known micronutrient something you need to be aware of in these challenging times?

What is selenium and which foods is it found in?

Selenium is an essential trace element with a number of biological functions. Selenium levels affect the ability of the body to repair DNA by protecting cells from oxidative stress. Selenium is also heavily involved in the endocrine (e.g. thyroid function) and immune systems. Selenium occurs in organic and inorganic forms. The organic form is found predominantly in grains, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products and enters the food chain via plant consumption.

What happens if you are deficient in selenium? 

Selenium deficiency has also been associated with increased incidence, severity (virulence) and/or progression of viral infections such as influenza (flu), HIV and Coxsackie virus. For example, flu infections are known to cause significantly greater lung problems in selenium‐deficient mice compared with selenium adequate mice. Another study found the amount of inflammation and severity of illness was significantly higher in selenium deficient mice.

It has been suggested that increased severity of viral infections in selenium‐deficient mice could be the result of increased oxidative stress caused by impaired antioxidant enzyme activity. Excessive inflammation may be the result of viral‐induced tissue damage and an increased expression of NF‐kB, which controls inflammatory responses, because of increased oxidative stress.

What can you do to help ensure optimum selenium levels? 

Selenium deficiency, or simply having low levels, can affect health. For that reason, it’s essential to eat a balanced diet so that you are giving your body the best chance of getting all the nutrients it needs. If you are concerned that you don’t eat enough of the foods listed above, perhaps because you are adhering to a strict vegan diet, it could be worth exploring a selenium supplement. 

Altruvita's selenium supplement

Selenium deficiency, or simply having low levels, can affect health. Altruvita’s selenium is from selenomethionine (a naturally occurring amino acid) and provides over 180% of the adult daily requirement for health (nutrient reference value). We are also vegan and vegetarian approved by the Vegetarian Society, so this is the perfect selenium supplement for those sticking to a plant-based diet.