When tasked with learning about Vitamin D, just google it and see what happens. I did that and got a whopping 540,000,000 results. Even with my years of healthcare provider experience, I’m surprised! The sheer volume of data available shows just how popular the use of this supplement has become since the 1940’s (when it initially became available). Vitamin D is indeed one of the most commonly used supplements taken with or without a prescription.
The fat soluble nutrient, sometimes referred to as a hormone, vitamin, or just calciferol is essential and critical for the health of our bodies. Vitamin D can be found in small quantities in certain foods, gained through sun exposure, or taken as a dietary supplement. Sun exposure seems to be the most adequate way to get it but for anyone who lives in areas with low amounts of sunshine or avoids sun exposure, they will almost always have lower than normal levels.
Vitamin D is involved in homeostasis and helps in many body functions including:
- Bone and muscle health (growth and maintenance) – Low levels can lead to weak bones and muscle spasms.
- Mood regulation – Having a correct amount can offset depression symptoms.
- Glucose metabolism – It’s been shown to improve glycemic control and insulin sensitivity in both type 1 and 2 diabetes patients.
- Enhances immune function – Your immune system works better and harder.
- Reduced inflammation – Helps to prevent pro-inflammatory processes which cause pain and can lead to autoimmune disease.
Vitamin D and Lupus
Due to its role in the inflammatory processes within the body, it’s not surprising that so much new research is being done to understand vitamin D’s role in autoimmunity. Autoimmune conditions, such as lupus, are those in which the body’s immune system mistakes itself as foreign and attacks. Lupus can be caused by genetic predispositions, environmental exposures, and economic status. It is often difficult to diagnose until it has progressed to multi organ involvement. One of the key parts of healthy autoimmune function is the appropriate expression of regulatory processes. Vitamin D plays a part in this by helping to maintain healthy immune activity and aiding in this process.
Most Vitamin D related lupus research concludes that low levels of Vitamin D can aggravate symptoms such as fatigue and can cause flares. Dangerously low vitamin D levels can also lead to disease progression. An ongoing study at The Albert Einstein College of Medicine is optimistically exploring the effects of Vitamin D correction on lupus expression and prognosis. Meaning that perhaps supplementation could improve treatment outcomes for lupus patients, particularly in reducing its associated complications such as kidney disease, blood disorders, and lower rates of seizure and stroke.
Another study from the University of Birmingham directly correlates vitamin D with metabolic syndrome- a syndrome which is used to describe patients who have a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, and obesity. Those with metabolic syndrome are at higher risk of coronary artery disease and its associated conditions. The study states that lower levels of vitamin D are associated with higher rates of metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance. This, in the future, could lead to research which confirms that Vitamin D supplementation in the treatment of lupus could reduce risk factors and improve the quality of life for patients with lupus.
Clinical research involving vitamin D is proving that this vitamin “hormone” is so important to our health and may be pivotal in the treatment of not just lupus but many diseases.
By Nadia Bhatti