Saturday, November 10, 2012

Vitamin D -- Why It's Important for Us

Vitamin D is one of those vitamins that so many tend to overlook getting in their diet. Why? Most vitamin D is a natural by-product of our skin's exposure to sunlight. It is also readily found in fatty fish -- salmon, herring and mackerel. It is supplemented in most cows milk we purchase at the grocery...or we can take it as a supplement.

In a study from 2010, found that vitamin D is crucial for activating our immune system's "killer cells" referred to as T cells, which if vitamin D is absent or too low in our blood, will remain dormant and oblivious to threats from infections. Vitamin D deficiency is well-known for being a risk factor for rickets (the softening and weakening of bones). There is also mounting evidence that a vitamin D deficiency may increase our susceptibility to autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), system lupus erythematosis (SLE), type-1 diabetes, certain types of cancers and dementia.

In this same study, the researchers mapped out the specific locations where vitamin D affects our DNA through a process called vitamin D receptor (VDR) which binds to very specific locations in the human genome -- more than 200 genes have been identified which show a direct influence by the VDR. Keeping all of this in mind, the researchers looked at the regions associated with diseases on the gene map to see where there were elevated levels of VDR binding. They found that there was significant binding in regions linked to several common autoimmune diseases -- type 1 diabetes, Crohn's disease, MS, and in regions associated with leukemia and colorectal cancer.

In a 2007 research study, vitamin D was studied in its role as a part of the endocrine system. Vitamin D is an important component in the interaction between the kidney, bone, parathyroid hormone, and the intestine, which maintains extracellular calcium level and helping maintain skeletal integrity. Vitamin D levels are also associated with hypertension, muscular function, immunity, and ability to encounter infection, autoimmune disease, and cancer.

The active form of vitamin D produces and maintains self immunologic tolerance and inhibits induction of disease in autoimmune encephalomyelitis, thyroiditis, type-1 diabetes mellitus, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD, Crohn's), systemic lupus erythematosus, and collagen-induced arthritis and Lyme arthritis.

There is still much we need to learn to truly know the full role vitamin D plays in our health.  But we can do something to help ourselves.  For overall good health, it's essential we meet vitamin D requirements. If our doctor tests our blood vitamin D level and finds a deficiency.  

There are things that we can do.  You ask how? Where can you find this bone-building, immune-boosting vitamin? Here are some simple ways to get the recommended daily intake of vitamin D:
  • Feed on fish. Specifically, canned pink salmon, mackerel, and sardines offer the highest amounts of vitamin D.
  • Choose fortified beverages. Both soy and cow’s milk are available fortified with vitamin D. Some brands of orange juice also come with an added dose of D.
  • Eat egg yolks. Though they're sometimes a concern because of cholesterol, egg yolks are a good source of vitamin D.
  • Start your day with cereal. Dry cereals and instant oatmeal that have been fortified with vitamin D are a great way to start your day.
  • Keep it simple with a supplement. Vitamin D supplements can make it easy to get all you need each day — just take one pill. If you have absorption issues, your doctor may try a prescription pill that is a once a week dosage. 
  • Sunlight. Exposure to the sun also helps your body to produce vitamin D. Relaxing in the sun for a brief period of time (just 5 to 10 minutes) a few days per week without sunscreen can help your body create enough vitamin D to ward off a deficiency. Just remember to guard against the potential damage of the sun — keep your exposure limited to reap the vitamin D benefits without harming your skin. For many of us we take medications that make us more prone to burning. With sunblock and following the brief times listed, we should be able to do this minimal risk to ourselves.

I cannot stress enough to you my friends.  Be your own best health advocate.  Knowledge is power and together with your doctor, you can be in the best health of your life despite having lupus or RA or whatever autoimmune disease you may be facing.

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