Can Vitamin D Keep Your Immune System in Tip-Top Shape?

With all the talk of the H1N1 virus and flu season upon us, people are searching for ways to bolster their immune systems and stay healthy. Could the key to better immunity lie in a simple vitamin?

John J. Cannell, MD, an innovative physician and founder of the Vitamin D Council, had a “eureka” experience a few years ago that resulted in a theory that’s now rapidly gaining ground: Vitamin D deficiencies underlie a vulnerability to influenza and other infectious diseases, and boosting levels of this vitamin protects against infection.

Here’s how it came about. In early 2005, an influenza epidemic ran rampant through the California maximum-security psychiatric hospital where Dr. Cannell was working. In his ward, however, nobody got sick. His patients were no younger or healthier than the others, and they had mingled with infected patients and been treated by the same nurses. The only difference was that his patients had been taking 2,000 IU of vitamin D each day for several months.

A light bulb went off in Dr. Cannell’s head. Since then, he’s gathered a wide body of research that backs his theory in spades. (Visit his website, http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/, for more information.) 

In addition to its role in immune function, vitamin D is active in tissues throughout the body. Research shows that deficiencies in this vitamin can lead to a number of other health problems including:

• Cardiovascular complications
• Type 1 diabetes in children
• Parkinson’s disease
• Osteomalacia (softened bones) and osteoporosis
• Cancer
• Depression
• Rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions
• Increased mortality rates

I could go on, but here’s all you really need to know: To prevent flu and other infectious illnesses, and to bolster your overall health, you need to increase your level of vitamin D.

Over the years, as more benefits of the “sunshine vitamin” have emerged, my suggested dosages have slowly crept up. Here are some general guidelines. (Please note, higher doses may be necessary to raise blood concentrations to protective levels.) For infants, 1,000–1,800 IU; for children ages 1 to 12, 2,000 IU; and for adults, 2,000–4,000 IU per day—or more, if needed. Get your 25 (OH)D blood level tested through your doctor and take enough supplemental vitamin D3 to bring your level into the 50-70 ng/mL range.

Vitamin D is perfectly safe at these levels and, for short periods of time, in much larger doses. High-dose vitamin D may be required to overcome deficiencies, but it should be taken only under the care of a physician.

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