Earlier this year, when the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading across the United States, former CDC Chief Dr. Tom Frieden went on record saying that Vitamin D might help reduce the risk of getting sick. His recommendations? Go outside and get some sun, eat healthy foods that contain Vitamin D, and supplement with Vitamin D when needed. According to Dr. Joseph Esposito, founder and CEO of AlignLife Chiropractic, Dr. Frieden is spot on in that recommendation. It also echoes what he has been saying about Vitamin D deficiency for over 20 years.
“Studies show that more than 40% of US adults are Vitamin D deficient,” shares Dr. Joseph Esposito. “That number is even higher for people with darker skin pigments. For years, AlignLife doctors across the nation have been talking to patients about Vitamin D. Yet despite the mounting evidence that supported the benefits of Vitamin D and its effectiveness at helping treat chronic diseases, the medical community held back. Now it’s quickly becoming one of the most recommended supplements by physicians today. This moves us in the right direction as we work together to fight disease and help people achieve optimal levels of health.”
Vitamin D continues to be recommended by doctors throughout the world to help people build a strong defense against colds, the flu, and other viruses this year. Let’s take a look at some of the key reasons and research on why Vitamin D is such an important part of your immune defense.
How Vitamin D can help with respiratory infections
The impact Vitamin D can have on respiratory infections has been widely studied for well over a decade. In fact, one study even suggests medics in the 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic found that severely ill patients nursed outdoors recovered better than those treated indoors. “A combination of fresh air, sunlight, scrupulous standards of hygiene, and reusable face masks appear to have substantially reduced deaths among some patients and infections among medical staff.”
Currently, there is no known treatment or cure for COVID-19. But we do know that adequate Vitamin D levels in the body have been shown to reduce the risk of respiratory infection, increase the production of natural antibodies, regulate cytokine production, and can limit the risk of other viruses such as influenza.
Why are cytokine storms dangerous?
Controlling cytokine production is important because respiratory infections can result in a cytokine storm. Cytokines, as a rule, are good for your body. They are short-lived signaling molecules that your body releases to activate inflammation as it tries to control and eradicate the virus. A cytokine storm is when your immune system floods the body with these molecules and creates a highly fatal immune system response by overproducing these cells. If the immune cells surge in the lungs, it results in lung inflammation and fluid buildup and can lead to further respiratory distress or bacterial pneumonia.
Physician’s Weekly recently noted that cytokine storms are now “seen as a likely major cause of mortality in the 1918-20 ‘Spanish flu’ which killed more than 50 million people worldwide, the H1N1 ‘swine flu’ and H5N1 ‘bird flu’ of recent years.” We may be seeing something similar with COVID-19. In many of the sickest patients with COVID-19, their blood is teeming with high levels cytokines.
While clinical data on Vitamin D and COVID-19 is still being gathered, adequate Vitamin D may potentially provide some modest protection for vulnerable populations and help prevent cytokine storms from occurring. This would, in turn, decrease the mortality rate and could possibly shorten the severity of the virus.
How do you know if you need more Vitamin D
People who live in the northern part of the U.S. are typically at a greater risk for Vitamin D deficiency. A main reason for this is that during the colder months, they don’t get as much sunshine as their southern neighbors.
The best and most accurate way to find out if you are Vitamin D deficient is a 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood test. You can ask your local AlignLife chiropractor or healthcare provider about having your levels checked.
Your body also sends out signals telling you that you may not be getting enough Vitamin D. Some common symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include:
- Getting sick more often
- Pain and muscle weakness
- Heart conditions
Three ways to boost your levels of Vitamin D
Thankfully, bringing up your body’s Vitamin D levels is fairly easy to work into your daily routine. Here are three simple tips you can do to help boost your Vitamin D levels.
#1: Soak up the sunshine.
Your body makes Vitamin D when your skin is exposed directly to the sun. That means regular sun exposure is the most natural way to get more Vitamin D. To see a boost, you would need to get 10-30 minutes of midday sun at least a few times a week. Those with darker pigmentation may need longer as the added melanin in the skin reduces the amount of UVB light absorbed.
#2: Eat more foods high in Vitamin D.
Fatty fish (like tuna, mackerel, and salmon), beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, and foods fortified with Vitamin D (some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals) are all high in Vitamin D. Another food that is high in Vitamin D is mushrooms. That’s great news because mushrooms are easy to add to a variety of salads and as side dishes to meals.
#3: Give your body an extra boost with a high-quality supplement.
If you’re looking to boost your Vitamin D levels fast, high-quality supplements also work well. AlignLife recommends Active-D (liquid drops) or Active-D Plus (capsules) from Aceva. Both products feature a unique combination of Vitamin D3 and K2. This pairing has been shown to reduce and slow the buildup of unwanted soft tissue calcium deposits when compared to those just taking Vitamin D.
How much Vitamin D should you take?
A common adult dose prescribed by physicians is around 1000 IU a day, and that’s a safe number to start with. However, if you’re deficient in Vitamin D (which a simple blood test can tell you), Dr. Esposito recommends you take a higher dose – around 5000 IU a day – to start with and taper off as your levels rise. This will help build your body up to the levels it needs quickly and maximize your body’s immune response.
There is such a thing as too much Vitamin D, however. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is stored in your body fat and releases into your bloodstream slowly. Because your body stores it over time, a toxic build-up can occur if you aren’t monitoring your levels. That’s why it is important to test your levels when you start as well as every 90 days while using the supplement to ensure you are taking the proper dose and maintain optimal blood levels.
Note: Getting too much Vitamin D is rare, but it can cause nausea, vomiting, weakness, and frequent urination. Vitamin D can also interact with certain medications, so it is always good to check with your healthcare provider about interactions before taking a supplement.
Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults. Kimberly Y.X. Forrest and Wendy L. Stuhldreher. Nutrition Research. 2011.
The Open-Air Treatment of PANDEMIC INFLUENZA. Richard A. Hobday, PhD and John W. Cason, PhD. American Journal Public Health. 2009
Vitamin D for prevention of respiratory tract infections: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Jaykaran Charan, Jagdish P. Goyal, Deepak Saxena, and Preeti Yadav. Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics. 2012.
Vitamin D Regulates Cytokine Patterns Secreted by Dendritic Cells to Promote Differentiation of IL-22-Producing T Cells. Sommer, Andrea. Fabri, Mario. 2015.
The antibiotic vitamin: Deficiency in vitamin D may predispose people to infection. J. Rallof. Science. 2006.
Randomized trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren. Mitsuyoshi Urashima, Takaaki Segawa, Minoru Okazaki, Mana Kurihara, Yasuyuki Wada, Hiroyuki Ida. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010.
Toll-like receptor triggering of a vitamin D-mediated human antimicrobial response. Liu PT, Stenger S, Li H, Wenzel L, Tan BH, Krutzik SR, et al. Science. 2006.
Cytokine Storm: The Sudden Crash in Patients with COVID-19. Physician’s Weekly. 2020.