Home > Elements, General Health, Immunology, Vitamins > Note to flu-phobes: Vitamin D is your friend

Note to flu-phobes: Vitamin D is your friend

With the advent of the dreaded(?) H1N1 virus, Vitamin D is popping up in the news again as a hot-topic flu-fighter (see this article). Ever the sceptic, my first question (after “Really?”) was “How exactly?”

As it turns out, the vitamin in question is purportedly not your average vitamin. It’s a secosteroid (a steroid where one of the bonds has been broken). Most other vitamins aren’t, and so the behaviour is a bit different. According to one article:

[Vitamin D] is the only known precursor of a potent steroid hormone, calcitriol, or activated vitamin D. Most other vitamins are antioxidants or co-factors in enzyme reactions. Activated vitamin D – like all steroid hormones – damasks the genome, turning protein production on and off, as your body requires. That is, vitamin D regulates genetic expression in hundreds of tissues throughout your body. This means it has as many potential mechanisms of action as genes it damasks.

So how do we manage to get more of this wonderful substance– typically known as ‘that vitamin you get from the sun’ into our system in dreary ol’ November? Well, as always, there’s the pill popping idea which I have never been a great fan of. Memories of squirting ‘liquid sunshine’ down my poor unsuspecting daughter’s throat for months on end after she was born did little to alleviate that. So the challenge is to find it in foods, but which ones.

Of course, as is no suprise to my inner-cynic, the usual suspects for the ever-shouted sources of Omega 3 also gets shout-outs for Vitamin D of various forms. Fish oils get big points for being harbingers of Vitamin D, as do whole eggs. Also on the list is Beef Liver and UV-irradiated mushrooms(?!) apparently dish out some amount of Vitamin D2. As an added bonus, many products in the industrialized world are now fortified with Vitamin D2, including Milk, Bread and Cereals. A glass of good old Canadian moo-juice, for example, will give you a refreshing 100IU of Vitamin D (and a moustache, if you’re lucky).

Guesses put the daily intake of your average American at 100IU, so putting some emphasis on upping that value a bit will likely show some benefit without too much though.

That’s probably not going to get you all the way to peak Vitamin D levels though, according to some recent studies. Indications there are that 5,000 IU in physiological (regular daily) doses of the stuff in adults might increase incidents of the flu (twice that for ever 25lbs in children). Might.  They are also suggesting that the decrease in seasonal sunlight in the winter months (and thus the decrease in Vitamin D intake by non-hermit-humans) may be at least partially responsible for the seasonal nature of the flu.

There’s a lot of reading out there on the topic, but what I’m taking from it is that a little more can’t hurt. I have no intention of going stir-crazy with the stuff. As for miracle cures for the flu, I’ll stick with pho ga as my reigning champion on that front for now.

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