Can vitamin D help keep you infection free?

On Wednesday morning I had a nice chat over coffee with Oliver Gillie, a writer and researcher with a particular interest in vitamin D. We spent much of our time talking about the role vitamin D may have in a wide range of conditions including role in a range of conditions including cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia. We also talked about the role of vitamin D in the functioning of the immune system. We talked, for instance, about the ability of vitamin D to stimulate the production of anti-microbial compounds.

Back in June I devoted a post to some research which links vitamin D with protection from infection, including ‘upper respiratory tract infections’ (URTIs) such as coughs and colds. This may have particular significance in winter, when vitamin D levels tend to fall. In 2007 I wrote a post which played with the idea that peaks in rates of cold and flu in the wintertime might be related to relative vitamin D deficiency and the immune compromise this may induce.

Some of you may know that over the last year or so I have been on a personal mission to optimise my vitamin D levels. I wrote about this most recently in December. One of the commenters on this piece (Nigeepoo) raised the issue of vitamin D’s influence on resistance to infection, and expressed interest in how I would go before catching something. I remembered this during my conversation with Oliver earlier this week.

It suddenly occurred to me that I have not had a single infection for at least a year. As Nigeepoo pointed out, I might be at somewhat enhanced risk of contracting an infection because I see patients. There may be some truth in this. On top of this, I do a fair amount of air travel, and as many of us know, aircraft cabins can be incubating chambers for cold, flu and other infective organisms. I spent a fair amount of time over Christmas a New Year in a house inhabited by people who went down with something viral at one time of another. The bottom line is I’ve had plenty of opportunity to contract a viral infection.

And through all of this, I have not had so much as a hint of infection. No runny nose, cough, sore throat, fevered brow – nothing.

Going a whole year without any infection at all is, I think, rare if not unheard of for me. For example, I remember going down with a cold/flu-like illness the previous Christmas (2008) that lasted a few days.

Now, it’s impossible for me to say whether vitamin D has anything to do with this. However, my personal experience is that optimising my vitamin D levels has coincided with a degree of immune resilience (Nigeepoo had a similar experience). Should I eventually succumb to something, I’ll fess up in the form of a post.

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25 Responses to Can vitamin D help keep you infection free?

  1. Grok 5 February 2010 at 7:12 pm #

    Similar experience Doc. Although I’ve greatly cleaned up my diet this year also, this is the first year I’ve supped D. I’ve had two very minor, quickly disappearing colds.

    Usually I’m good for a couple colds and a flu; usually a cold will drag on for weeks. They’ve been gone in three days max. I’ve been documenting on my vitamin D dosage page.

    I usually end up taking somewhere in the 5-10k UI a day range depending on my CLO consumption.

  2. Bill 5 February 2010 at 8:40 pm #

    John, our personal experience is notoriously unreliable for testing hypotheses. It’s because of a psychological bias we all have known as the confirmation bias http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias

    Having said that, we shouldn’t discount personal experience for exploring ideas as you often rightly advocate. I would be really interested if any trials have been done looking at vitamin D supplementation and susceptibility to colds? Have any been done? For example, we might expect the Common Cold Centre in Cardiff to explore this idea? http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/biosi/subsites/cold/index.html

  3. Jamie 5 February 2010 at 8:45 pm #

    I concur with all the other comments here. 5000IU per day, plus have spent as much time as possible in the summer sun with no sunscreen. Very minor sniffle when the H1N1 flu was doing the rounds of NZ last winter.

    Interestingly too, since increasing vit D & omega-3′s, I rarely get sunburn despite having quite fair skin. This extra photoprotection is something that has been noted by quite a few of us who take these supplements.

    This is an interesting paper on the nutritional protection against skin damage from sunlight:
    http://www.dr-baumann-international.co.uk/science/Nutritional%20Protection%20against%20Skin%20Damage%20from%20Sun%20Light.pdf

  4. Debbie 5 February 2010 at 10:08 pm #

    Interesting indeed. I’ve been supplementing D3, about 5000 IU daily, for about a year now. I also have not been sick or had any sort of cold or sniffles. Yet I was the sort who typically used to get colds that degenerated into bronchitis at least 3 times a year, and even pneumonia in 2007. But so far it’s been a very good year.

  5. Ana 5 February 2010 at 10:19 pm #

    This might shed some light on the issue:

    http://www.grc.com/health/pdf/Benefits_of_Vitamin_D_Supplementation.pdf

  6. Mark 5 February 2010 at 10:23 pm #

    Ditto here. I’ve been taking 6000IU per day for 16 months or so and have only had one very minor cold during that time. The normal course for me would be several heavy colds per year.

  7. fionab 6 February 2010 at 12:02 am #

    Inspired by this post (and 10 days struggling with a cold) I’ve just bought a pack of what I now see is vitamin D3. Will that do the trick?

  8. fionab 6 February 2010 at 12:26 am #

    I also see that the capsules I’ve bought are 800 iu which would presumably mean I’d have to take about 6 a day to get up to the levels you say you are taking. Since the pack recommends not exceeding 1 a day would that not be overdoing it?

  9. Nigeepoo 6 February 2010 at 2:11 am #

    My ears are burning! I haven’t caught an infection, it’s just Google Alerts.

    @fionab: Ignore what the pack says. It’s based on an RDA that’s applicable to bone health only. Read my Vit D blog (link in username)

  10. Mary Titus 6 February 2010 at 2:47 am #

    I have been intently interested in vitamin D. I have been taking a pretty large dose to see how it affects my blood glucose. I am pre-diabetic and diabetes runs strongly in my family. Also, my daughter has asthma another common ailment on her father’s side of the family. I have read that both issues could be associated with vitamin D insufficiency. AND, although she is black, she has suffered a sun burn or two.I think that vitamin D insuifficiency has been the main problem with my family. No wonder these health problems are considered familial. If every family member is lacking sufficient levels of vitamin D they are bound to suffer the same ailments generation after generation.

  11. Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later 6 February 2010 at 8:41 am #

    Self-selecting though they we are, the commenters on this post increases your n=1 to n=7 or 8. I can add four more people to this anecdote collection. My parents, wife and I have been taking 2-4 thousand iu for a year and have not had an infection. For my parents this is unprecendented.

  12. Fred Hahn 8 February 2010 at 12:26 am #

    I’ve been taking 50,000IUs a day for a month. I’ve done this before for 3 months at a time each and every day. Nary a side effect occurred.

    My hair hasn’t grown back, :( but I’ve been free if illness – not even a sniffle or sore throat – for well over a year.

  13. Gary 8 February 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    To gain max benefit from vit D make sure you don’t supplement extra preformed vitamin A. It competes with vitamin D at receptors and reduces the benefits. Many people are at risk from Vitamin A subclinical toxicity.

  14. tawse57 8 February 2010 at 9:08 pm #

    About 15 years ago I started to develop asthma and was put on steroid preventers.

    In the past 5 years the asthma has got much worse with a terrible tightness in my chest and the most agonising pain in my sternum – just to touch my sternum was agony and I would go out of my way to avoid touching my own sternum. It has effectively destroyed my life.

    Doctors were just confused by the tightness, the painful sternum and such things, by several Consultants, has been put down to being ‘muscular-skeletal’. They could not understand why the tightness was not relieved by the asthma medication and put it down to anxiety and, of course, muscular-skeletal.

    I now realise that this all started shortly after the last time I got sunburnt in the mid 1990s and vowed never to go out in the sun again without sunscreen on. I also listened to the endless press releases about ‘slip, slap, slop’ re sunscreen and avoiding the sun at all costs. Despite being active in the Summer I religously smeaedr my body head to toe in sunscreen factor 50 before going out anywhere in the Summer and have done so for 10 to 15 years.

    A fortnight ago I began taking 5000 IU of D3 (Holland & Barrett) daily along with a calcium and magnesium supplement after reading the research of Professor Michael Hollick in Boston on the benefits of D3 and the illnesses that can result from a lack of D3 – several times he talks about patients who have sternums so painful that they cannot bear being touched there.

    The pain in my sternum is now greatly reduced, still a lingering soreness, but I can now freely not only touch it but push against it firmly with my fingers and thumbs. Frankly, the reduction in pain has been so rapid and so great that I am half-afraid to mention it just in case I am dreaming and it returns.

    Last week I had my yearly visit to the asthma nurse and a GP was in attendance. I mentioned my use of D3 and was warned that the dose I was taking could be toxic. I asked both whether they knew how much D3 the body makes in 30 minutes in the sun in the height of Summer – neither knew and were obviously surprised when I told them that it was 10,000 to 20,000 IUs compared to the 5,000 IUs I was taking.

    I aim to take this dose for 2 to 3 months and then have my D3 blood levels checked. I can only hope that the pain reduces further in that tight and hopefully both the tightness and the asthma will subsequently reduce as a result of the D3.

  15. Mills 13 February 2010 at 8:31 pm #

    There is evidence (search for Melamed) that vitamin D3 has an 25(OH)D upper limit of about 60ng/ml after which D3 has a negative aging effect. Large doses (> 5000 IU/d) particularly if combined with sun exposure could raise levels above this limit.

    Take care and have D3 levels regularly checked.

  16. Denis 16 February 2010 at 1:57 am #

    I work in an NHS hospital in the UK and have to circulate through the wards talking to patients. I have been taking Green Pastures fermented cod liver oil for the past year & I had one cold last October & nothing since despite friends having colds & flu. Is it the increased level of vitamin D? I don’t know but I do know I feel brilliant at the age of 48.

  17. Nigeepoo 22 February 2010 at 2:40 am #

    After having had a right inguinal hernia op’ on Wednesday 17th Feb, I now have a slight sniffle. Apart from some post-op’ stinging, I feel fine. I have no headache & no muscle pain.

  18. Nigeepoo 22 February 2010 at 2:50 am #

    Mills said:
    “There is evidence (search for Melamed) that vitamin D3 has an 25(OH)D upper limit of about 60ng/ml after which D3 has a negative aging effect.” You know what would go well with Vitamin D3? Fish Oil.

  19. Liz Smith 7 March 2010 at 6:22 pm #

    Two years ago my sister in South Australia was feeling so ill the only test they had not done on her was a Vit D3 test. When the results came back she was 19, which is Sooo low. She has now got her reading up to 92 – she says they want it between 90-160 in Oz. She also said tests in Queensland have shown how depeleted everyone is there, because no one goes out in the sun – the alternative is plastering sun screen on. Here my son since he’s been taking Vit D has noticed that his blood pressure has reduced to a level that is remarkable.

  20. Justmeint 23 August 2010 at 6:22 am #

    If you are alive (so that includes anyone reading this) you will have heard the Vitamin D Hype. Even the Medical Profession is extracting blood (wretched vampires) to check your levels of this essential hormone.

    We went through years of being told that sun exposure was killing us…. skin cancers, melanomas etc, hence the dire need to stay out of the sun and (in Australia) to “Slip, Slop, Slap…” and yet it is well known that the suns action on the skin, is the most natural way to build up your bodies supply of natural vitamin D. Notice the word NATURAL.

    Shane Ellison, known as The People’s Chemist, has a well written ANTI (artificial) VITAMIN D essay I felt would be appropriate to post here for your edification.

    http://just-me-in-t-health.blogspot.com/2010/08/vitamin-d-scam.html

  21. Gill Oliver 5 October 2010 at 4:50 pm #

    I’m taking 1 multivit containing 5.oug and one fish oil capsule 5.oug, can some tell me what this means and how much i should increase by, i also suffer from seasonal depression, will it help with that?.

  22. Nigel Kinbrum 21 March 2011 at 8:26 am #

    I have another slight sniffle (while quite a few of my Facebook friends are moaning about being ill!).

  23. beryl shave 9 November 2011 at 11:50 pm #

    Thank you so much for your results after taking vitD3. For over 8weeks i have had a chest virus and then a head cold, blocked ears, loss of smell and hearing,sinus infection with constant drainage and sneezing,wheezing and asthma like attacks. I heard about Vit D3 and started taking 2200iu’s with 1000mg VitC 4 times a day,within half a day the drainage stopped, chest tightness eased and for the first time in a month my ears ‘popped’ open with the result of better hearing.At last I believe I have the remedy to get rid of these horrendous viral infections. Hats off to Vit D3 I thank God for it. Beryl Uk

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