Vitamin D affects the immune system

Should I Take Vitamin D?

Public Health England is recommending people consider taking daily vitamin D supplements throughout the spring and summer as the coronavirus lockdown continues. This is a piece of good news! Some vitamins and minerals are vital role to our health. Particularly important at the moment, we need to think how vitamin D affects our immune system

 

So what is vitamin D?

Vitamin D is often called the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because it is produced by the body when we expose our skin to the ultraviolet from the sun. It is actually a prohormone (it is a compound that can be transformed into a hormone by the body) and is the only vitamin that our body can produce (1).

We get most of our vitamin D from our skin, but you can also find some vitamin D in food such as egg yolk, sardines, cod liver oil, salmon…. (2)

 

 

Food

%RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance)

Cod liver oil, 1 tablespoon

170

Trout (rainbow), farmed, cooked, 3 ounces

81

Mushrooms, white, raw, sliced, exposed to UV light, 1/2 cup

46

Sardines (Atlantic), canned in oil, drained, 2 sardines

6

Egg, 1 large, scrambled (vitamin D is in the yolk)

6

Liver, beef, braised, 3 ounces

5

Tuna fish (light), canned in water, drained, 3 ounces

5

 

 

Vitamin D has several functions in the body. It helps absorb calcium and phosphorus, which are essential for bone health. Without enough vitamin D, bones can become brittle and out of shape as it is the case in rickets, a severe form of vitamin D deficiency or osteoporosis. It supports the immune system and has some effect on the cardiovascular system and high blood pressure. It is also associated with cancer rates, autoimmune diseases such as MS and energy production (3,4). An estimated 20-50% of many diseases could be prevented by adjusting vitamin D.

 

Vitamin D deficiency is common!

It is estimated that up to 40% of people in the UK are deficient in vitamin D (5), with ethnic minorities and the elderly more affected.  In the UK, the sun is too low on the horizon between October and March for the body to produce vitamin D. This and the increased use of sunscreen and spending less time outdoors might explain why we tend to be low in vitamin D. Indeed, these have been touted as the reason for the increase in rickets cases in the UK (6). Because optimal vitamin D levels are critical to overall health, ensuring that you are not deficient is essential.

Vitamin D levels vary during the year and are their lowest around February. Because the vitamin D you get from food is usually a small part of what you need and we have less sun during the winter, our reserves go down. This is the reason why the NICE guidelines encouraged some populations to have some vitamin D supplementation between October and March. Severe deficiency in vitamin D is defined as a concentration in vitamin D below 30nmol/l, and deficiency is defined as a concentration below 50nmol/l.

 

Vitamin D affects our immune system

 

Multiple studies have shown a link between vitamin D and a healthy immune response. It has been shown to support both the innate and the adaptative part of our immune system.

The innate immune system is the part of our immune system that reacts against any invasion and is very much our first line of defence. It doesn’t differentiate between the pathogens and is our first line of defence and includes physical barriers such as the skin, the lungs or the inside of our nose. This part of our immune system also consists of some specific cells that attack any foreign cells in the body.

The adaptive immune system is also called the acquired immune system and is our second line of defence. It is composed of cells that attack specific pathogens. It is a much more complicated system, and it can take days or weeks to produce the cells specific to a pathogen. These cells are called T cells and are a type of white blood cell. It can remember the pathogens too so if you are infected by the same pathogen again, the immune response is more efficient.

Vitamin D plays a role both in our innate immune system, our first line of defence and in the more complex adaptive immune system.

 

The First line of defence (7):

Vitamin D helps support our immune system in 3 ways:

1- Vitamin D strengthens our physical barriers against pathogens, especially in the gut and in the lungs. This is especially true for the cells inside our lungs when we are under attack from a viral infection. It also increases the production of antibacterial compounds.

2- Vitamin D is needed by some white cells to help them recognise and destroy pathogen in the body

3- Vitamin D supports the gut microbiome. About 80% of all the immune system is in the gut, and the health of our gut bacteria influences the way our immune system reacts. A healthy gut flora supports a healthy immune system.

The Second line of defence (8):

The adaptive immune system is complex. For the white blood cells to be able to neutralise a pathogen, they need to go through several steps. Those T cells need to be activated. They also need to differentiate/transform into a different type of immune cells (which then leads to a different kind of response from the immune system).

Vitamin D is involved in the immune system in 4 different ways:

1- Vitamin D activate T cells so they are better able to respond to a pathogen

2- Vitamin D influences the T cells differentiation/transformation

3- Vitamin D helps some white cells to mature and modulate the immune system for better efficiency

4- T cells respond directly to vitamin D by producing specific white cells

 

 

What about the current epidemy?

 

There hasn’t been any finalised research yet about the influence of vitamin D and the Coronavirus. Some studies are under the way in France and in Spain. However, preliminary results from Southern Asia show that there might be a strong link between the severity of the disease and the level of vitamin D.

In particular, 86% of all cases with normal vitamin D levels were mild, whereas 73% of cases with low vitamin D levels were severe or critical. This goes a long way to explain the advice from Public Health England.

 

Vitamin D levels affects the immune system

Click to enlarge (from GrassrootsHealth Research Institure)

 

How much vitamin D should you take?

 

This really should depend on what your level of vitamin D is.

The NHS has updated its advice, saying that everyone should consider taking 10µg (400IU) per day during the whole of the summer. This is around half of your daily requirement of vitamin D.

If you are deficient or if you do have the opportunity to go outside much, a higher dose might be more suitable.1000 IU to 2000IU would be suitable for most people. Be mindful not to overdose on vitamin D. The maximum daily dose is 4000IU (unless prescribed by your GP). Vitamin D supplements are quite easy to find. If you are considering buying some, you need to ensure that the vitamin D is vitamin D3 as it is the one most usable by the body. You will find it in tablet form or drops. Just chose whatever works best for you.

If in doubt about dosage, contacting a nutritionist for advice would be best so you can have the most appropriate dosage for you.

Last but not least, remember to go outside, without sunscreen and uncovering legs and arms. This will allow your body to manufacture its own vitamin D and is safe as long as you are also mindful of not getting sunburnt.

 

 

 

  1. Tripkovic L, Lambert H, Hart K, Smith CP, Bucca G, Penson S, et al. Comparison of vitamin D2and vitamin D3 supplementation in raising serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D status: A systematic review and meta-analysis
  2. Vitamin D – Health Professional Fact Sheet
  3. Roy S, Sherman A, Monari-Sparks MJ, Schweiker O, Hunter K. Correction of low vitamin D improves fatigue: Effect of correction of low vitamin D in fatigue study.
  4. Stöcklin E, Eggersdorfer M. Vitamin D, an essential nutrient with versatile functions in nearly all organs
  5. Crowe FL, Jolly K, Macarthur C, Manaseki-Holland S, Gittoes N, Hewison M, et al. Trends in the incidence of testing for Vitamin D deficiency in primary care in the UK: A retrospective analysis of the Health Improvement Network
  6. Rickets on the rise – NHS
  7. Hewison M. An update on vitamin D and human immunity.
  8. Sassi F, Tamone C, D’amelio P. Vitamin D: Nutrient, hormone, and immunomodulator.

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acupuncture and anxiety

5 Steps To Live Anxiety Free

If you struggle with anxiety, if it’s getting in the way of your everyday life, stopping you from enjoying the things around you, then you are not alone. Our modern life is full of stresses. From random acts of violence, politics or the impact of the environment on ourselves and our health to the ‘small’ everyday stresses on the road (did you just see that car overtaking!?!) or at work, who wouldn’t be anxious?

It is estimated that about 1 in 6 persons have been affected by an ‘neurotic health problem’ in the previous week and women are twice more likely to be affected than men.

There are many types of anxiety, from the very circumstantial anxiety of doing a talk in front of a big audience to more chronic disorders such as panic attacks or general anxiety disorder (GAD).

By learning how to reset our ways to respond to stress, you can allow to calm the anxiety down.

1 : Recognise what is going on

Very often, anxiety shows itself through very physical symptoms. You might be feeling your heart beating, sometimes very quickly, having a feeling of weight over your chest, getting dizzy or nauseous. You might be struggling to fall asleep at night, have some unsettling dreams or nightmares. Or you might have the urge to just run away to escape the situation. All of those are symptoms of anxiety kicking in, a biological response to a perceived threat, even when there is no immediate or direct threat. Remember these are just feelings, not the reality.

2: First Aid technique

The best way to calm anxiety on the go is to concentrate on your breath. Breathing in and out slowly from your nose will help calming your heart rate and your breathing as well as relax your body and mind.

First breathe in through your nose counting to 4, have a brief pause and then breathe out through your nose counting to 4 again. Whilst breathing out, concentrate on any area of tension (shoulders and the forehead when you are frowning are two areas where we often hold our tension) and visualize the tension melting away.

3: Exercise

This is simple. Exercise is wonderful to reduce stress and therefore anxiety. Any exercise is ok but even more so if you really enjoy it.

4 : Massage P6

P6 is an acupuncture point on the inside of your arm. This is the same point that is used to ease travel sickness so you can either massage the point with a finger for a couple of minutes on each side or use one of those travel sickness band.

To locate the point:P6 is situated between the two tendons on the inside of your arm, about 3 finger width from the wrist (see picture). To check that you are at the right place, put some pressure on that point. It should feel slightly ‘bruisy’.

 

 PC6 image

 

5: Get some acupuncture

In my clinic, I regularly see people who are or have suffered with anxiety. Acupuncture and ear acupuncture (where you put some very small needles in the ear) are both very efficient at calming anxiety down. But they can also make the body itself stronger so that people are more able to deal with anxiety inducing situations, tackling both the symptoms and the root of the issue.

 

Over to you

What are your tips to calm anxiety? Not every tip will work with everyone and you might have to do a bit of trial and error before finding what is working best for you.

 

We are offering a free 15 minutes consultation to learn more about how acupuncture can help you tackle anxiety. Simply give us a call on 01642 794063 to schedule an appointment.

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How Can You Stay Warm & Healthy This Winter?

The latest bout of snow has reminded me that we are fully into the seasonal phase that the Chinese call the Major Cold. Its name comes from the fact that this last part of the year, just before the Chinese New Year, is often the coldest part of the year. Consequently, many people are arriving at the clinic suffering from coughs and colds to sinus infections. So what can we do the look after ourselves during that time of the year?

 

1-      Looking after our digestive system.

This is essentially about eating easily digested foods so we can build up our energy and be ready for the Spring.

Easily digested foods are nice warm, cooked foods such as soups or stews.  Rice, soups such as chicken soup, cooked vegetables are all beneficial, especially when they are teamed with warning spices such as fresh ginger or nutmeg.

In addition, you might want to avoid cold and raw food as well as foods that are overly sweet or greasy (eg greasy meats or sweet deserts/cakes).

Adequate hydration is also important so sipping a nice, warm herbal tea throughout the day will also be beneficial. Ginger tea is a good choice to stimulate digestion.

 

2-      Bone broth

Bone broth has been used in Europe and in China for generations to keep people healthy. I am always trying to make a big pot of bone broth in the week, drinking a cup in the morning with my breakfast.

Here is how to make your own bone broth

 

3-      Soaking your feet

Soaking your feet in warm water was once a daily habit for many people in China and as a TCM practitioner, this is something I would also recommend as it is surprisingly effective. One recipe for a foot soak, especially good for those of us who tend to have cold extremities in winter, is:

About 50g of ginger, sliced

Half a cup of Epson Salt

Boil the ginger in water for a few minutes.

Take a basin big enough to put both feet in and high enough that you can cover your feet with water, up to your ankles.

Put the boiled water in the basin and add enough water so your feet will be covered. The water should be around 40oC (Please check the temperature before putting your feet in. You don’t want to burn yourself but nor do you want the water to be too cold). Add the Epson Salt.

Soak your feet for about 20mins, adding some boiled water if the water in the basin gets too cold.

It is best to do the soak just before going to bed as it will help you stay warm and get a good night rest.

 

4-     Socks and scarves

It sounds quite obvious but protecting yourself with warm clothes when you go out, including covering your neck (with a scarf for example) is essential. This is also about keeping yourself warm at home by wearing slippers in the house (so your feet don’t get cold) or using bed socks in bed if you tend to be easily cold or have cold feet.

This will help you protect yourself from the cold around you as well as from all these colds and coughs.

It is worth noting that science has found a possible explanation as to why getting cold could lead to getting a cold. It’s all down to the fact that our immune system isn’t as strong when we are cold!

 

Over to you

What are you doing to keep you warm and healthy during the winter? Do you tend to get ill or tired quite easily or do you waltz through it all?

 

Sometimes, self-care isn’t enough and you might find that you need a bit more support. If you find that during the winter you don’t seem to shake those coughs and colds or you are getting particularly tired, come and see us. Simply give us a call on 01642794063 and we will help you put those under control.

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