When you get sick, the first thing you think of is vitamin C. However, would you reconsider that if I told you that vitamin D is more effective than flu vaccines and other anti-viral drugs?
After all, the flu spreads most readily once seasons change and sun time lessens. In the summer, we get plenty of sun and thus, our bodies synthesize much higher levels of vitamin D. In the winter, we’re usually bundled up (especially if you live in the Northern hemisphere) and our skin rarely sees the light of day. This is also a time when people get more sick and potentially risk death if they’re elderly.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D, otherwise known as the “sunshine vitamin,” is a pre-hormone made by the skin that is converted to another form by the liver. Its final form is converted by other cells throughout the body into a steroid hormone (1).
Your body can make its own vitamin D when you expose your skin to sunlight. When sunshine directly touches the skin, a chemical reaction takes place that creates vitamin D3.
Vitamin D is important for general good health, and is even important for healthy bones.
Vitamin D helps with various functions of the body, such as:
– Immune system function
– Muscle function
– Cardiovascular function
– Respiratory system
– Brain development
– Anti-cancer effects
Vitamin D’s function on the immune system is particularly important. It acts as an immune system modulator, preventing excessive production of inflammatory cytokines and increasing macrophage (type of white blood cell) activity.
Vitamin D also stimulates the production of anti-microbial peptides in other white blood cells, and in epithelial cells lining the respiratory tract, protecting the lungs from infection (2).
Unfortunately, not many people get enough vitamin D (even in the summer – thanks to a hefty layer of sunblock). Over 40% of the U.S. population has a vitamin D deficiency, meaning higher rates of disease and illness.
Vitamin D is More Effective Than Flu Vaccine
A recent study published in the British Medical Journal found that vitamin D supplementation was a safe and effective way to minimize risk of acute respiratory infections (3).
A meta-analysis of 25 high-quality studies was undertaken, which looked at data from almost 11,000 participants. All studies included in the meta-analysis and systemic review were randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled.
The BBC reported that (4):
“Overall, the study said one person would be spared infection for every 33 taking vitamin D supplements. That is more effective than flu vaccination, which needs to treat 40 to prevent one case, although flu is far more serious than the common cold.”
The study found that people who took daily or weekly vitamin D supplements were less likely to report acute respiratory infections, like influenza or the common cold, than those who did not. Those individuals who had the most significant vitamin D deficiencies (blood levels below 10 [ng/mL]), taking a supplement cut their risk of respiratory infection in half. People with higher vitamin D levels also saw a 10 percent reduction in flu risk, which is about equal to the protective effect of the flu vaccine, according to researchers.
The researchers believe that the protective effects of vitamin D can be attributed to the fact that it increases antimicrobial peptides in your lungs. The researchers also postulate that vitamin D supplementation could prevent more than 3.25 million cases of cold and flu each year in the U.K. alone.
This isn’t the only study that has investigated vitamin D’s anti-flu benefits. According to doctors in Japan, the risk of children suffering from the flu can be reduced by 50% if they take vitamin D (5).
Mitsuyoshi Urashima, the Japanese doctor who led the trial, told The Times that vitamin D was more effective than vaccines in preventing the flu. In his study, only one in ten children, aged six to 15 years, came down with the flu when given vitamin D supplementation. This was largely significant, given one in five children came down with the flu when given a placebo supplement.
Vitamin D was found to be even more effective when the comparison left out children who were already given extra vitamin D by their parents, outside of the trial. Taking vitamin D was then shown to reduce the risk of flu to a third of what it would otherwise be.
In Mitsuyoshi’s study, 354 children were given a daily dose of 1200 IUs (International Units) of vitamin D over a period of three months. In the first month, children in the group taking the vitamin became ill just as often as those taking the dummy tablet. But by the second month, when vitamin levels started to build up in the children’s blood, the advantage of the vitamin was clear.
The researchers note that anti-viral drugs like zanamivir and oseltamivir reduce the risk of flu infection by 8 percent in children who have been exposed to infection. However, when supplementing with vitamin D, the risk of flu infection is reduced by 50 percent or more – a far cry from the percentages coming from anti-viral drugs.
Anti-virals are said to perform better than flu vaccines, which means vitamin D would out-perform both given the results of this study. Anti-virals and flu vaccines are also incredibly toxic, whereas vitamin D supports multiple functions in the body, and even protects against cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses.
How Much Vitamin D?
The current “recommended” daily intake for vitamin D is 600 IU for people over the age of two and 800 IU for people over seventy. However, these numbers seem awfully low, given the world-wide vitamin D deficiency epidemic (6).
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a paper in 2007 that called into question these low-dose recommendations (7). One short exposure to sunlight produces 20,000 IU of vitamin D within forty-eight hours – an oral supplement should, therefore, be much higher than 600 IU in order to have any real effect on the immune system.
While it is possible to overdose on vitamin D, it has been found safe to take single dosages of up to 50,000 IU of vitamin D over short periods of time. In fact, many physicians in both Canada and the United States prescribe as much as 50,000 IU of vitamin D daily as a treatment for a long list of chronic diseases.
Dr. John Cannell, MD, suggests high-dose vitamin D (50,000 IU) be consumed for three days at the first sign of a cold or the flu (8).
Best Form of Vitamin D?
While the best way for your body to absorb and utilize vitamin D is via sunlight (at least 30 minutes a day), this isn’t really possible for individuals who live in winter climates. I suggest getting out in the sun for as long as you can in the summer months, and during the winter, take a high-quality vitamin D3 liquid supplement. I take Pure Encapsulations Vitamin D3 Liquid, and it lasts me almost all winter!
Jon Whitacre says
Nice article. Thank you. Are you aware that D3 is a fat soluble vitamin, that its absorption is increased when taken with a high quality fat, such as pure unrefined coconut oil or virgin cold-pressed olive oil, and that in order for D3 to support calcium absorption into the bones, D3 needs to be taken with a high quality form of calcium, such as Calcium citrate, and Vitamin K2?
Carly Fraser says
Yes, I am aware of all of that – if your diet is well-balanced, you'll be absorbing all the vitamin D3 you need.