Vitamin D For the Flu Season

Anyone have a doubt that flu season is beginning? It’s advertised at pharmacies, on TV, at food stores. There is something that you can do that won’t hurt and may very well help you. Take more Vitamin D.

I thought Vitamin D was for bones, you say. Vitamin D absorption is an adjunct for calcium absorption for sure. But that’s only part of it. A pandemic, worldwide Vitamin D deficiency is commonly recognized in the medical literature. In the Mayo Clinic Proceedings earlier this year, there is evidence that deficiency in Vitamin D is related to the following conditions: type 1 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, cognitive decline, depression, pregnancy complications, autoimmunity, allergy, and even frailty.

What about flu? Dr. John Cannell published a study that shows how important exposure to sunlight is. Our bodies convert sunlight into Vitamin D. Flu season begins right after the shortest day of the year when we get the least sun. And it disappears after the longest day of the year. Flu is more common during the rainy season in tropical countries. In Norway, where there is more consumption of Vitamin D-containing foods than almost anywhere else, the elderly are less likely to die in winter. A study published in the British journal, The Lancet, showed people over the age of 65 getting a flu shot had no reduced risk of contracting pneumonia, a likely cause of death during the flu season.

So let’s get back to Vitamin D. It’s commonly deficient and there is good evidence that it can act as an immune booster. More importantly, so many of us are deficient in Vitamin D that we are putting ourselves at risk of having some of the problems listed above. Vitamin D is a vitamin that can be checked with a blood test, called a 25-hydroxyvitamin D or 25(OH)D test. There are varying levels that are minimally acceptable, depending on whom you read. The U.S. Endocrine Society has stated that a 25(OD)D test of 30 ng/ml is sufficient but a maintenance level of 40-60 ng/ml is ideal.

That means that for most of us, we need to step up our Vitamin D intake. We’re lucky. We’re in Florida. We can take off our shirts and wear shorts. One 20 minute full-body exposure of summer sunlight will result in 20,000 IU of Vitamin D in our system in 48 hours. If you’re dark-skinned, older, obese, or on cholesterol-lowering drugs (Vitamin D is converted in our bodies from cholesterol.), you’ll probably get far less. And a sunscreen with an SPF of 8 or greater will reduce your ability to convert sunlight to Vitamin D by up to 95%.

And of course, there are Vitamin D supplements. Personally, I take 5000 IU’s of Vitamin D a day and when my blood test is low, I’ll take a lot more. The key is to ask your doctor for the blood test. Then do what you need to get your 25(OH)D to at least 30 and preferably 40-60. You’ll be healthier as a result.

Lee N. Sheldon, DMD

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