People still don’t get it: Vitamin D is the “miracle nutrient” that activates your immune system to defend you against invading microorganisms — including seasonal flu and swine flu. Two months ago, an important study was published by researchers at Oregon State University. This study reveals something startling: Vitamin D is so crucial to the functioning of your immune system that the ability of vitamin D to boost immune function and destroy invading microorganisms has been conserved in the genome for over 60 million years of evolution.
As this press release from Oregon State University (http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_relea…) explains:
The fact that this vitamin-D mediated immune response has been retained through millions of years of evolutionary selection, and is still found in species ranging from squirrel monkeys to baboons and humans, suggests that it must be critical to their survival, researchers say.
“The existence and importance of this part of our immune response makes it clear that humans and other primates need to maintain sufficient levels of vitamin D,” said Adrian Gombart, an associate professor of biochemistry and a principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.
The announcement goes on to explain:
In primates, this action of “turning on” an optimal response to microbial attack only works properly in the presence of adequate vitamin D, which is actually a type of hormone that circulates in the blood and signals to cells through a receptor. Vitamin D is produced in large amounts as a result of sun exposure, and is available in much smaller amounts from dietary sources.
Vitamin D prevents the “adaptive” immune response from over-reacting and reduces inflammation, and appears to suppress the immune response. However, the function of the new genetic element this research explored allows vitamin D to boost the innate immune response by turning on an antimicrobial protein. The overall effect may help to prevent the immune system from overreacting.
Without vitamin D, you’re really at risk
What this study reveals is that without sufficient levels of vitamin D circulating in your blood, you’re a ripe, juicy target for influenza (H1N1 or otherwise). If you lack vitamin D, your immune system can’t “activate” to do its job. That’s why people who are deficient in vitamin D so frequently get winter colds.
But people who are high in vitamin D have the nutritional power to activate their immune system so that it can respond to invading pathogens. Crucially, vitamin D also manages to balance immune response and prevent inflammation — the leading cause of death in the 1918 influenza pandemic.
So not only does vitamin D protect you from the initial infection; it also prevents your body from over-reacting and killing you with inflammation (which typically gets expressed as bacterial pneumonia, an infection of the lungs).