Everyone seems to be talking about vitamin D these days, and for a good reason! Recent studies show that while vitamin D plays a key role in many areas of our health, vitamin D deficiency is very widespread, affecting about one billion people worldwide. Almost every person I see in my clinic has a deficiency in Vitamin D, and this is especially true in winter time!
Vitamin D has a significant role in cancer prevention, heart, brain and bone health, and also immune system modulation.
Autoimmune Disease – A defective immune system
An autoimmune disease is a condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body. The immune system normally guards against germs like bacteria and viruses and it can differentiate between foreign cells and the body’s own cells.
In an autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakes part of your body — like the thyroid or joints — as foreign. It releases proteins called autoantibodies that attack healthy cells and destroy the function of one or more organs in the body. Autoimmune disease is also on the rise, affecting about 50 million Americans.
Vitamin D and Autoimmune Disease
Vitamin D is an immune system modulator and can determine whether or not a person develops an autoimmune disease. Studies in the last 30 years have shown that people with autoimmune disease have significantly lower levels of vitamin D than healthy people and that autoimmune disease is more likely to develop in individuals with low vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D regulates the number of T-regulatory cells, a type of immune cells that play a key role in preventing autoimmunity. More specifically, T-regulatory cells make the immune system “smarter” by teaching it to not attack itself by accurately differentiating between foreign cells and the body’s own healthy cells.
Vitamin D Supplementation in Autoimmune Disease
There is evidence that vitamin D supplementation has a therapeutic benefit in a number of autoimmune diseases.
In a meta-analysis of 24 studies involving 3489 rheumatoid arthritis patients, people with rheumatoid arthritis were found to have lower vitamin D levels than healthy controls. The study also found that as vitamin D levels increased, symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis decreased.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
A study by Yang et al. published in 2013 found that high dose vitamin D supplementation (5000 IU/day for 24 weeks) significantly improved disease activity in patients with Crohn’s disease. Another study found that vitamin D supplementation (1200 IU for 12 months) significantly reduced the risk of relapse in Crohn’s disease patients.
Vitamin D deficiency arises as one of the most important environmental factors for the prevalence, relapse rate and progression of multiple sclerosis.
Autoimmune Thyroid Disease
Many studies have shown that low levels of vitamin D contribute to Grave’s disease and Hashimoto thyroiditis. Combining vitamin D supplementation with thyroid hormone or other anti-thyroid medication contributes to the treatment of autoimmune disease by reducing the levels of thyroid auto-antibodies and suppressing the autoimmune reaction.
Take Home Message
- If you are facing an autoimmune condition, monitoring your vitamin D levels will play a key role in the management of your health.
- Vitamin D reduces inflammation, slows down disease progression and reduces symptoms of the disease.
- Aim for a vitamin D level between 60-90 ng/ml.
- Lin, Jin, Jian Liu, Michael L. Davies, and Weiqian Chen. “Serum vitamin D level and rheumatoid arthritis disease activity: review and meta-analysis.” PloS one 11, no. 1 (2016): e0146351.
- Wang, Jiying, Shishi Lv, Guo Chen, Chenlin Gao, Jianhua He, Haihua Zhong, and Yong Xu. “Meta-analysis of the association between vitamin D and autoimmune thyroid disease.” Nutrients 7, no. 4 (2015): 2485-2498.
- Yin, Kai, and Devendra K. Agrawal. “Vitamin D and inflammatory diseases.” Journal of inflammation research 7 (2014): 69.