Vitamin D – Immune System

November 22, 2010

Vitamin D Bone Health

Vitamin D is essential in more functions than we previously realized. Besides the commonly known function of calcium metabolism, bone and cartilage repair and teeth and gum health, it plays a crucial role in insulin production, sugar metabolism and glucose tolerance. Vitamin D also supports adrenal/cortisol production whereby a deficiency can result in chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia symptoms, increasing muscle and nerve pain.  Low D levels play a significant part in PMS and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Studies have found D to reduce cardiovascular risk, aid in lowering cholesterol, lowers some types of hypertension, lowers CRP, fibrinogen, and IL-6 inflammatory markers.

Low D levels are linked to an increased risk for:

  • osteoporosis
  • osteomalacia
  • osteoarthritis
  • muscle weakness and pains
  • gum disease
  • secondary hyperparathyroidism
  • MS
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • psoriasis
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • ulcerative colitis
  • lupus
  • thyroiditis
  • some cancers of the breast
  • colon and prostate and melanomas


Vitamin D is found abundantly in fatty fish, which few of us eat regularly. It is also made by the body in response to the sun’s UBV rays on our skin. In a population screening of 7699 individuals 19 yrs of age or older, 60% of Caucasian and 92% blacks were found to have inefficient 25(OH)D3 levels of 20ng/ml or less! Few Americans and Europeans therefore get enough direct sun contact year round to have healthy and protective vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D is helpful in fighting viral infections. Some of these viral infections have been known to trigger Type 1 diabetes in the youth. Colds and flu also increase in incidence in the fall and winter months when 25(OH)D3 levels are lower. Research is only now beginning to touch the surface of the mechanism of how D works with our immune system. A genetic link to gene expression has been uncovered whereby vitamin D stimulates the synthesis of antimicrobial peptides in our monocytes (white blood cells) one of the cells comprising our immune system. Some of these peptides also have anti-inflammatory mechanisms. A fabulous study of menopausal women (who are at greater risk of vitamin D deficiency) found that those in the placebo study had a 300% increased risk of developing colds and flu over this two year study, compared to those menopausal women given 2000IU daily. This is very significant. (Epidemiol Infect 2007:135:1095-1096)

Vitamin D prolongs life. Epidemiological studies show that activated vitamin D prolongs life, even low doses of vitamin D. Animal studies showed that vitamin D deficiency made cancers grow faster in mice. Therefore, the gathering body of evidence is supporting higher vitamin D levels than those previously suggested. This is why researchers are recommending the US RDA be increased to at least 2,000IU.

Low vitamin D levels are linked to an increased risk for Type 1 Diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune induced childhood diabetes, affecting more than a million Americans yearly. It generally begins in early childhood but can begin later in young adulthood. With the increase in environmental toxins and rise in inflammatory and autoimmune related conditions, Type 1 diabetes is expected to continue to be a pressing problem with our society and youth unless drastic changes in lifestyle and diet are made.

The latest research is suggesting a thirty percent dose-dependent drop in risk for developing type 1 diabetes when children are given vitamin D supplementation.

Low vitamin D levels are linked with high blood pressure. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1988-1992) found a significant age-associated blood pressure increase with correlated deficiency in 25(OH)D3 levels in both Caucasians and blacks. The test was done during peak summer and was of serious concern. Another study conducted in 2008 repeated the findings with increase in systolic pressure with low 24(OH)D3 levels.

Vitamin D deficiency increases risk of heart attack. A 2008 Framingham Offspring Study conducted over a period of 5.4 years found a positive correlation between low D serum levels and increased risk for stroke and heart attack. Those individuals testing at 10ng/mL or lower had an 80% increased risk of heart attack, those at 10-15ng/mL had a 53% increased risk of heart attack. Research has since confirmed that our hearts and other tissues have vitamin D receptors.

Low vitamin D increases risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS)! A groundbreaking study conducted in 2007 and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Safety of vitamin D3 in adults with multiple sclerosis) found a significant correlation with the onset and severity of MS symptoms with low 25-OH D3 levels.  Patients were given 280,000IU per week to reach a D level of 154ng/mL and found no negative effects on the liver or kidneys or serum or urinary calcium levels. What they did find was a significant reduction of gadolinium-enhancing brain lesions. This study also supports the finding that very high doses of D3 are safe.


Vitamin D from fish and direct sun exposure on our skin stimulates our synthesis of activated D, and the storage of cholecalciferol in our tissues. Prescription drugs can interfere with the synthesis of activated D especially those taking steroids to control their inflammatory diseases. Other drugs that bind fats will inhibit the synthesis of vitamin D, such as choestyramine and over the counter laxatives! Taking extra fiber or statin drugs also lower D levels. Cancer patients may have a faster metabolic clearance using it up faster. The same may be true of children. Individuals with dark skin need longer sun exposure to synthesize vitamin D! Therefore, they are MORE prone to vitamin D deficiency! Women with low hormone levels are at risk for low vitamin D. Obese individuals have been found to have as much as 50% less vitamin D levels than those not obese. Aging skin is also less able to synthesize D.


The more vitamin D one takes the higher the 25(OH)D3 levels rise in your blood stream, which is called “activated D” which increases the level of cholecalciferol in your tissue. Current RDA is extremely low at 200-600IU for 20-75 year olds. In light of recent research it appears highly inadequate. It is only when vitamin D levels rise to over 150ng/ml that blood calcium levels would need to be checked. Most patients are told to shoot for a goal between 30-40 ng/ml but this is proving to be insufficient. For individuals suffering from:

  • chronic fatigue
  • allergies
  • asthma
  • arthritis
  • irritable bowel, any inflammatory based condition

It is recommended that the level should be 68 ng/ml. Published studies are beginning to see beneficial cancer preventive effects that start at levels of 100 ng/ml. A general guideline is 1,000IU/day per 30 lbs of body weight. A 150lb person would take 5,000 IU per day by these guidelines; a 210 lb person would take 7,000IU per day.

Consult a licensed health care practitioner in determining your dose of vitamin D. Those individuals suffering from hyperparathyroidism, sarcoidosis, patients taking Coumedin or Warfarin need to speak with their health care providers before increasing their dose of D.

Vitamin K is essential to have with vitamin D. Vitamin K is necessary to direct the transport of calcium into bones. Taking calcium and D without K will increase the risk of calcium deposits in arteries and soft tissue and increase the development of bone spurs. In addition, those taking high doses of vitamin A (20,000IU) were shown to have an increased risk of bone fractures because of its antagonistic effect upon the metabolism of Vitamin D.


There is an easy test to determine vitamin D levels and it can be done at both Quest Diagnostics and Lab-Corps walk in labs across the country. Ask for the 24(OH)D serum test. Once you know your level, and you have consulted with a licensed medical health care practitioner to screen out complicating issues mentioned above, you can begin to a therapeutic dose of vit D, and retake the lab in 30-45 days to watch your levels increase. Once you reach your goal of 68-100ng/ml, it is advisable to retake the blood test in 2 months to determine if the rate is dropping too low on your revised supplement program. These lab tests will help you get to know how your body is processing D and will help you optimize your immune health, cardiovascular system, bone health, neurological health, energy and sugar metabolism.

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Anna Manayan

Anna Manayan