Vitamin D3: The Sunshine Vitamin That Protects The Immune System

Vitamin D3: The Sunshine Vitamin That Protects The Immune System

Vitamin D has received a lot of attention lately, and for good reason. Most people are vitamin D deficient to some degree, due in large part to the popular misconception that it is in our best interest to steer clear of the sun and because toxins that are found in pesticides and air pollution deplete the body of vitamin D. Conventional dermatologists have demonized the sun and go so far as to suggest that we avoid even a single ray of sunlight, or face serious risk of skin cancer. To no surprise, this has caused extreme paranoia of the sun, along with the excessive application of sunscreen.  Three quarters of adults and teens are vitamin D deficient, and of the thirty leading causes of deaths in the United States in 2010, nineteen were linked to low vitamin D status. Avoiding skin cancer is important, but so is making good vitamin D. Most skin cancers are non-melanoma, which are easy to detect and easy to treat. On the other hand, melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, occurs on the least sun-exposed parts of the body. Because melanomas occur on the least sun-exposed parts of the body, people who are exposed to the sun more regularly have lower incidences of melanoma than those who are not, such as office workers or those living in high latitudes. But spending time in the sun is not enough.  Supplementation is needed and should be combined with vitamin K.  According to Dr Mercola, "There's a new kid on the block that could end up being "the next vitamin D," and we are finding that some of vitamin D's benefits are greatly enhanced when combined with this other vitamin. That "new kid" is vitamin K.  Much new research is now focusing on the synergy between vitamin K (specifically, vitamin K2) and vitamin D3, particularly in terms of bone strength and cardiovascular health."

When tested, women with fibroids, endometriosis, adenomyosis, and PCOS are all similar in that they are vitamin D deficient.  Research on hormonal and reproductive health has repeatedly linked back to Vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a role with hormone receptor sites and reducing inflammatory responses, and without it, hormones can’t function the way they normally would. Estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, luteinizing hormone, and follicle stimulating hormone all go out of whack when receptor sites malfunction.

Research has concluded that low levels of vitamin D may be tied to fibroids and that sufficient levels of vitamin D may decrease the risk of fibroids. Vitamin D has also shown to play a role in multiple sclerosis (MS) and fibromyalgia. Studies show that supplementing with vitamin D has resulted in significant reduction in both pain and fatigue symptoms of those suffering with MS and fibromyalgia. Studies concerning endometriosis suggest that vitamin D supplements could be a safe, effective, and low-cost therapeutic approach in both the primary prevention and treatment of endometriosis. Endometriosis is a result of a number of factors, including genetic, hormonal, immunological, and environmental factors, but inflammation plays an especially important role in the development and progression of the disease. Vitamin D is also extremely important for a healthy pregnancy and increased fertility. High doses of vitamin D have shown to lower estradiol. Estrogen dominance is one of the main reasons for infertility. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is another leading cause of infertility, and most women with this condition are vitamin D deficient. This vitamin D deficiency in women with PCOS is also associated with multiple metabolic risk factors such as cysts on the ovaries, poor metabolic health, and inflammation.

Vitamin D sufficiency comes with a wide array of health benefits. It is commonly known to be important for regulating calcium and bone health, but it is not just the bones and intestines that interact with vitamin D; every single tissue and cell in the body has a vitamin D receptor. The immune system, brain, heart, blood vessels, and colon all have vitamin D receptors and all respond to the active form of vitamin D. In turn, immune health, cell growth, cancer risk, oxidative stress, and blood pressure are all regulated. Up to 2,000 genes in the body are directly or indirectly regulated by vitamin D, and as a result, thousands of studies have associated deficiency with increased risk of developing common cancers, autoimmune diseases, hypertension and various infectious diseases. Vitamin D supports the “killer cells” of the immune system, helping them to seek out and destroy pathogens. The nutrient helps the cell’s go into alert mode and also tells the cell to calm down when the job is done. This is extremely important because if the cell stays in fight mode for too long, collateral damage, resulting in autoimmune disorders may occur.

Harvard Magazine sites an important scientific study on vitamin D and its effects on colorectal cancer, a type of colon cancer. A large number of previous studies have defined a consistent and strong association between high levels of vitamin D and lower risk of colorectal cancer risk, but this epidemiological study found that vitamin D might inhibit cancer. The study sets out to find whether vitamin D levels matter for patients, and found that higher levels of vitamin D were associated with significantly better survival, as well as delayed progression of the disease. This might be because the nutrient prevents the inflammation that promotes cancer growth, or strengthens immunity against the tumor.  

It is recommended that children get 1,000 units of vitamin D a day, and adults get 2,000 to 3,000 units of vitamin D a day. If you are obese you will need 2 to 3 times more because increased body fat has the ability to absorb vitamin D and keep it from being used within our body.  Due to the high amount we need and the relatively low amount found in our foods, it is nearly impossible to get enough vitamin D just from dietary sources alone. One quart of raw milk, for example, only contains thirty-eight of the 2,000 to 3,000 units of vitamin D that we need. Fifteen minutes per day of sun exposure between the hours of 10 AM and 3 PM is suggested. It is also suggested to always put sun protectant on your face, but not the arms and legs. Using an SPF of 30 reduces the ability to make vitamin D in your skin by 95-98%, leading to further deficiencies. The only way to know if you are deficient in vitamin D is to have your doctor perform a blood test. Dr. Axe suggests the 25-hydroxoyvitamin D test done, sometimes also called the 25(OH) D test, as other tests can show normal or even elevated levels of vitamin D which are actually inaccurate.

Vitamin D deficiency also contributes to dental plaque and gum disease, hypothyroidism, kidney stones, Crohn's disease, breast cancer and cysts, cellulite and scar tissue, aging and Alzheimer's disease.

by Jena Covello and Alexa Ouaknine