This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
A recent CDC report states that, for seniors, the 2012-2013 flu vaccine was only 9% effective for the most common and virulent strain of influenza virus. This means a senior population of over 120 million people in North America and Europe alone cannot rely on conventional prevention methods.
So how can you really avoid getting sick? Check your vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D is rapidly emerging as one of the most researched natural compounds demonstrated to promote a strong immune system and overall good health. Despite reports amplified by the mainstream media, much research has concluded that vitamin D may be very beneficial in helping you avoid getting sick, especially during the colder months.
Read also: Why the Media is Dead Wrong About Vitamins
Many studies indicate that individuals who have adequate blood levels of vitamin D appear to have the stronger immune systems, which protect them from seasonal illness. The journal Nature Immunology provides details on the synergy between the sunshine vitamin and our adaptive immune killer T cells. Vitamin D is shown to provide the activation key that stimulates T cells into action when invaders are detected.
Virtually every cell in our body has a vitamin D receptor that is only filled when sufficient amounts of vitamin D are circulating in the blood. A deficiency in this essential vitamin leaves the cellular receptor open and available for viral hijacking. A separate AJCN study even indicated that vitamin D is far superior to many conventional treatment methods.
Vitamin D Levels Diminish with Age, Increasing Risk for Illness
More evidence in support of vitamin D is provided by researchers in Spain, who published the results of their work in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology. They found that insufficient levels of vitamin D are related to a deficiency in our innate immune defenses that protect us from infections, neoplasias or other health problems, while sufficient levels may effectively shield us from getting sick, especially during winter months.
To perform the analysis and gather data for this study, researchers compared the changes in the blood levels of vitamin D among three groups of healthy subjects: youth (aged 20 to 30), middle-aged (aged 31 to 59), and elderly (aged 60 to 86). Interestingly, the scientists found decreased levels of vitamin D with aging, likely due to decreased exposure to the sun and a decline in the native ability of skin receptors to produce precursor levels of vitamin D, commonly found among individuals above the age of 40.
Vitamin D Influences the Expression of Disease-Fighting Immune Cells
The research team found that the level of circulating vitamin D in the blood affected the toll-like receptor (TLR) expression measured on white blood cell lymphocytes and monocytes. Specifically, they found that the TLR most affected by a vitamin D insufficiency is TLR7, which regulates the immune response against viruses.
In many geographic regions, limited sun exposure during darker winter months is closely associated with vitamin D deficiency and increased risk for sickness. According to the study’s lead author, Dr. John Wherry, “This study shows that sunlight, or more precisely, the lack of vitamin D, could have a role in the seasonally higher rates of infection…since vitamin D supplements are inexpensive and generally safe, this is a really exciting discovery.”
It is best, though, not to rely on sun exposure exclusively to obtain vitamin D, as changing temperatures and lifestyles too greatly affect the amount of vitamin D you’re able to produce. Most health-minded adults will want to supplement with Vitamin D3 (experts recommend starting with 2,000-5,000 IU per day), and test twice a year using the 25(OH)D blood test to confirm optimal levels above 50 ng/mL to achieve optimal protection.
The Bottom Line
The sunshine vitamin is a critical part of our genetic health, as it has been circulating in our ancestral blood for countless generations due to plentiful sun exposure. It has only been the past half-century that we have lathered ourselves with sunscreen and hidden in buildings away from the vitamin D producing effects of the sun, following the misguided advice of doctors and other misinformed medical professionals.
But vitamin D is an essential cofactor in the building of a strong immune system, which keeps you healthy day in and day out, but especially during the colder months. Also, vitamin D is one of the safest of all vitamins with no substantiated risk of toxicity, even at high levels, and virtually no interactions with any drugs. So please be sure to keep your vitamin D levels high so that you can dodge seasonal illnesses.