Vitamin D supports your immune system as the body’s first response to infection. Learn how vitamin D helps your body fight disease and prevent illness, and how to ensure your intake of this vital nutrient stays at its optimum.
Table of Contents:
- What is Vitamin D?
- Vitamin D & Immune Function
- What are the Best Sources of Vitamin D?
- How Much Vitamin D to Take to Help Boost the Immune System?
- How Vitamin D Deficiency Affects the Immune System
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin your body needs. This fat-soluble vitamin plays a role in immune cell function which helps to protect your body from disease. Replenishing your levels of vitamin D helps you see the benefits for your natural immunity. The key functions requiring Vitamin D include immune system function, and the absorption of both calcium and phosphorus.
Ensuring your body is provided with adequate levels of Vitamin D can aid your body’s immune system response and help to improve your body’s ability to fight off illness and disease. Making sure you’re getting enough vitamin D to aid your immune system is vital to help your body work the way it should. Vitamin D supplements may be taken to help encourage this intake.
Vitamin D is made up of a family of nutrients which all share a similar chemical structure. The most common forms of Vitamin D are Vitamin D3 (calcitriol) and D2 (ergocalciferol) and are usually found in your diet. However, there are very few foods that contain Vitamin D naturally.
Vitamin D & Immune Function
Vitamin D is slightly different to other vitamins because it is a hormone made by your body in a chemical reaction which occurs when your skin is exposed to sunlight.
For this reason, it is often referred to as the ‘sunshine vitamin’. However, it is only created by your body if you’re exposed to adequate levels of sunlight. Supplementing with vitamin D during the months with less sun could help you boost your immune system.
Vitamin D and your immune system play crucial roles in many functions within your body. Your immune system is your body’s first line of defense against infection and disease so it’s important to ensure that you’re not experiencing low levels of nutrients like vitamin D. Low levels could lead to deficiencies which can cause detrimental side effects.
Vitamin D plays a role in the proper functioning of t cells, b cells and dendritic cells which are all key to immune function and protecting your body from disease.
In addition, Vitamin D helps your body to effectively absorb calcium which helps your body to maintain healthy bones.
What are the Best Sources of Vitamin D?
Many people experience low levels of vitamin D because they’re not sure how to make sure they’re getting enough for their immune system.
There are three key sources of Vitamin D:
- Vitamin D supplements
- Exposure to sunlight
- Food sources
Let’s take a look at each of these in more detail.
Vitamin D Supplements
If you feel you’re not getting enough nutrients naturally, you can take Vitamin D supplements to support vitamin D and your immune system.
Specially formulated Vitamin D sprays make great alternatives to tablets and capsules, especially if you struggle or dislike swallowing these. Sprays are available in three different dosages of Vitamin D for your immune system. Supplements are available in:
- 3000IU (75μg)
- 1000IU (25μg)
- 400IU (10μg) (for infants and children)
For children, even with a healthy diet and exposure to sunlight, it can still be difficult to ensure they’re getting adequate levels of Vitamin D to support the immune system, and their growth and development. It can also be tricky to get young children to swallow tablets too so children’s vitamins can be a good option. These sprays contain a lower dosage of Vitamin D than adult versions as children need to maintain a much lower Vitamin D level for their immune system.
Helping to support bones, teeth and immune system functioning, Vitamin D sprays provide effective alternatives to traditional supplementation.
Exposure to Sunlight
The most natural way to obtain Vitamin D for your immune system is to expose your skin to sunshine. Vitamin D is produced endogenously (in the body) when ultraviolet light from the sun triggers Vitamin D synthesis when it hits the skin.
Ensuring you have sufficient vitamin D levels can help you beat the winter blues. For many people, it’s not possible to get outside for long enough every day, especially in the colder months. Due to this, other ways of obtaining Vitamin D for the immune system may be required. In addition, over-exposure to the suns’ rays carries risks too so this should not be overlooked.
During the winter months, it is less likely that your body’s requirements will be obtained from exposure to sunlight alone. Without sufficient levels, you cannot experience the benefits of vitamin D for your immune system and more. Vitamin D is only stored within your body for two months, so the Vitamin D accumulated during the summer will start to dwindle in the autumn months. Therefore, it may be necessary to find other ways to top up the Vitamin D for your immune system.
The most easily absorbed forms of this vital nutrient are Vitamin D3 and D2 - both of which are available from both your diet or from supplements. This is the natural form of Vitamin D that your body makes from sunlight, but it can also be obtained by eating certain foods as part of a healthy diet.
Vitamin D3 is most commonly found in animal-sourced foods such as:
- Oily fish – tuna, salmon, sardines
On the other hand, Vitamin D2 is found in plant sources and fortified foods including:
- Fortified foods – cereals, orange juice
Including these food sources in your diet alongside supplements can help to encourage vitamin D for the immune system.
How Much Vitamin D to Take to Help Boost the Immune System?
When taking a Vitamin D supplement, knowing the dosage you should be taking can help you to understand whether you’re taking too much or too little for your immune system.
The NIH recommends babies from birth to 12 months obtain 400IU (10mcg) daily, while those 1 years and above take at least 600IU (15mcg). Those over 70 require at least 800IU (20mcg) daily.
People who are unable to obtain adequate exposure to sunshine regularly and ethnic minority groups with dark skin are advised to take some form of supplement regularly all year round.
Vitamin D immune system requirements can vary widely depending on where you live and your lifestyle. It’s important to remember that 4000 IUs (100 micrograms) is advised as the daily upper limit for Vitamin D intake.
Taking too much Vitamin D for your immune system can cause a calcium build-up and lead to weak bones, kidneys and heart damage.
Minimum & Maximum Dosages of Vitamin D
The minimum and maximum recommended dosage of vitamin D for different ages are:
|Age||Minimum recommended Vitamin D dose||Maximum recommended Vitamin D dose|
|Newborn – 12 months||10 μg||25 μg|
|1 – 13 years old||15 μg||63 μg|
|14-70 years old||15 μg||100 μg|
|70+||20 μg||100 μg|
How Vitamin D Deficiency Affects the Immune System
Your immune system needs vitamin D, so without sufficient levels, your defences against disease and illness are not properly supported. If you don’t get enough Vitamin D for your immune system through diet, supplements or exposure to sunlight, you may find that you start to experience symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency. These can help to determine whether you need to encourage your intake through your diet or supplements.
Signs of low Vitamin D levels include:
- Muscle weakness
- Bone pain
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Muscle aches or cramps
- Frequent illness
If you think you may be experiencing a Vitamin D deficiency, you may wish to talk to your doctor.
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