Multiple health concerns surface as winter, vitamin D deficiences arrive

November 23, 2009

CORVALLIS, Ore. - A string of recent discoveries about the multiple health benefits of vitamin D has renewed interest in this multi-purpose nutrient, increased awareness of the huge numbers of people who are deficient in it, spurred research and even led to an appreciation of it as "nature's antibiotic."

On issues ranging from the health of your immune system to prevention of heart disease and even vulnerability to influenza, vitamin D is now seen as one of the most critical nutrients for overall health. But it's also one of those most likely to be deficient - especially during winter when production of the "sunshine vitamin" almost grinds to a halt for millions of people in the United States, Europe and other northern temperate zones.

Analogs of the vitamin are even being considered for use as new therapies against tuberculosis, AIDS, and other concerns. And federal experts are considering an increase in the recommended daily intake of the vitamin as more evidence of its value emerges, especially for the elderly.

"About 70 percent of the population of the United States has insufficient levels of vitamin D," said Adrian Gombart, a principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. "This is a critical issue as we learn more about the many roles it may play in fighting infection, balancing your immune response, helping to address autoimmune problems, and even preventing heart disease."

Those issues were just outlined in a new publication in Future Microbiology, a professional journal, on the latest findings on vitamin D research, at OSU and in many other programs around the world.

Of particular interest are findings made recently by OSU scientists that vitamin D induces the "expression" of cathelicidin, an antimicrobial peptide gene. This explains in part how it helps serve as the first line of defense in your immune response against minor wounds, cuts, and both bacterial and viral infections. Experts believe advances in the use of cathelicidin may form the basis for new therapies.

Once believed to be related primarily to bone health and rickets - a disease caused by chronic deficiency of vitamin D - it's now understood that optimal levels of this nutrient influence much more than that.

"Vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency is a world-wide, public health problem in both developed and developing nations," the new report concluded. "Nearly one billion people world-wide are deficient."

Vitamin D can be obtained from the diet, often through supplemented foods such as milk, but those sources are rarely adequate, experts say. Most people get the bulk of this fat-soluble vitamin from the UV-B radiation in sun exposure, which naturally causes the skin to produce it. However, people with dark skin, infants and almost anyone living north of about 40 degrees latitude - which is a huge portion of the U.S. population and most of Europe- are often deficient after months of inadequate winter sunshine.

Among the values and observations about vitamin D that are outlined in the new report:There is still much to explore about the mechanisms of action of vitamin D, the potential use of synthetic analogs of it in new therapies, and its role in fighting infection, Gombart said. Since only primates and humans have the same biological pathways for use of vitamin D to regulate cathelicidin, studies have been constrained by the lack of appropriate animal models for research, he said. OSU scientists hope to address that by creation of a line of genetically modified mice that have some of these characteristics.

One compelling new study just done by researchers at the Intermountain Medical Center in Utah, and presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association, followed for more than a year nearly 28,000 patients ages 50 or older with no prior history of cardiovascular disease. It found that in patients with very low levels of vitamin D - compared to those with normal levels - 77 percent were more likely to die, 45 percent were more likely to develop coronary artery disease, and 78 percent were more likely to have a stroke.
-end-
Research at OSU on vitamin D and cathelicidin has been supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

Oregon State University

Related Immune System Articles from Brightsurf:

How the immune system remembers viruses
For a person to acquire immunity to a disease, T cells must develop into memory cells after contact with the pathogen.

How does the immune system develop in the first days of life?
Researchers highlight the anti-inflammatory response taking place after birth and designed to shield the newborn from infection.

Memory training for the immune system
The immune system will memorize the pathogen after an infection and can therefore react promptly after reinfection with the same pathogen.

Immune system may have another job -- combatting depression
An inflammatory autoimmune response within the central nervous system similar to one linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) has also been found in the spinal fluid of healthy people, according to a new Yale-led study comparing immune system cells in the spinal fluid of MS patients and healthy subjects.

COVID-19: Immune system derails
Contrary to what has been generally assumed so far, a severe course of COVID-19 does not solely result in a strong immune reaction - rather, the immune response is caught in a continuous loop of activation and inhibition.

Immune cell steroids help tumours suppress the immune system, offering new drug targets
Tumours found to evade the immune system by telling immune cells to produce immunosuppressive steroids.

Immune system -- Knocked off balance
Instead of protecting us, the immune system can sometimes go awry, as in the case of autoimmune diseases and allergies.

Too much salt weakens the immune system
A high-salt diet is not only bad for one's blood pressure, but also for the immune system.

Parkinson's and the immune system
Mutations in the Parkin gene are a common cause of hereditary forms of Parkinson's disease.

How an immune system regulator shifts the balance of immune cells
Researchers have provided new insight on the role of cyclic AMP (cAMP) in regulating the immune response.

Read More: Immune System News and Immune System Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.