Link between vitamin D and autoimmune disease found

Could reducing the effects of chronic illness be as simple as some time in the sun?

The University of South Australia has discovered a breakthrough link between vitamin D and controlling inflammation.

In world first genetic research, the university found a direct link between low levels of vitamin D and high levels of inflammation. The research will be used to identify people at higher risk, or severity, chronic illness caused by inflammation such as rheumatoid arthritis.

The study complements a previous University of South Australia study that found evidence of vitamin D deficiency in cardiovascular disease.

Inflammation almost always brings forth images of pain and suffering, but it’s not all bad.

Inflammation is also the process where your body’s white blood cells and the things they make protect you from infection from outside invaders such as bacteria and viruses.

Read: Can taking vitamins help you recover from COVID?

The problem is that inflammation can be triggered even though there are no invaders to fight off. This is called autoimmune disease where basically your immune system acts as if tissue is somehow infected, causing damage. Such diseases include diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

Lead researcher Dr Ang Zhou said the findings suggested that boosting vitamin D in people with a deficiency may reduce chronic inflammation.

The study examined the genetic data of almost 300,000 participants from UK Biobank – a large-scale biomedical database – and found an association between vitamin D and C-reactive protein levels, which are an indicator of inflammation.

“Inflammation is your body’s way of protecting your tissues if you’ve been injured or have an infection,” Dr Zhou says.

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“High levels of C-reactive protein are generated by the liver in response to inflammation, so when your body is experiencing chronic inflammation, it also shows higher levels of C-reactive protein.

“This study examined vitamin D and C-reactive proteins and found a one-way relationship between low levels of vitamin D and high levels of C-reactive protein, expressed as inflammation.

“Boosting vitamin D in people with deficiencies may reduce chronic inflammation, helping them avoid a number of related diseases.”

The study concluded that a population-wide correction of low vitamin D levels could potentially reduce systemic low-grade inflammation and      reduce the burden of chronic disease, including type 2 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, at a cost-effective price.

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So that’s the good news. But what is vitamin D and how can you get more into your system?

Vitamin D is a micronutrient generally regarded as essential to maintaining the calcium and phosphorus levels, which are vital to building bone.

The easiest and most natural way to improve your vitamin D intake is to spend more time in the sun. The human body needs UV radiation from the sun to produce vitamin D, but as the body can absorb only a limited amount of vitamin D at a time, more sun does not mean more vitamin D, probably only more risk of skin cancer, so keep an eye on your time outdoors.

Other good sources of vitamin D are fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, oysters, eggs (especially the yolks), mushrooms, foods fortified with supplements, and supplements themselves. If you live in an environment with very little sun, a UV lamp may be helpful.

Do you take a vitamin D supplement? What for? We’d love to hear why in the comments section below.

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Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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