Influenza kills an average of 36,000 people in the United States every winter. Flu vaccines are an effort to protect against this but are notoriously ineffective.
Recently the Vitamin D Council has published a paper entitled, “Epidemic Influenza and Vitamin D” by Dr. John Cannell. In this article, Dr. Cannell and his colleagues propose that Vitamin D deficiency is the reason influenza is much more common in the winter than in the summer.
Vitamin D is the only vitamin made by the human body and for that reason it is called a Pro-Hormone. We need ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) from the sun, in order to allow the skin to manufacture Vitamin D for our body. In Northern climates, including most of the United States, we just don’t get enough sunshine and therefore not enough UVB to make adequate Vitamin D in the winter. In addition, ozone (for example, smog) blocks the UVB, so even those places like Southern California that are getting plenty of sunshine, have a reduced amount of UVB in the winter.
In addition, sunblock, which most of my patients use on a regular basis, blocks the UVB and prevents the manufacture of Vitamin D by the skin.
In my opinion, dermatologists have done a good job of teaching us that the sun can cause skin cancer, but they have lost track of the fact that we need at least a few minutes of sun without sunblock on our skin several times a week in order to manufacture Vitamin D.
The whole situation is complicated by the persistence of the official recommendations of the United States government for normal blood levels. The government, for a long time, has maintained that 20ng/mL is sufficient in the blood.
Due to extensive research in the field of Vitamin D by Dr. Michael Holick and his colleagues, we now know that blood levels should be higher than 33ng/mL and can go up to 100ng/mL without harm. In addition, many of my colleagues and I feel that any patient with a health problem involving their immune system is best served by a Vitamin D level of 50ng/mL or above.
As a result of this new information and the connection of Vitamin D with the winter flu, I am aggressively getting Vitamin D blood tests in all of my patients to insure that they are above 33ng/mL. Otherwise we are replacing them with oral Vitamin D.
For those reading this article who are not my patients, please note that the correct blood test for Vitamin D is the 25 Hydroxy Vitamin D level, not the 1,25 dye Hydroxy Vitamin D, which we were taught in medical school.
In addition, the very best technology for evaluating the Vitamin D level is now available which is liquid Chromatography, Mass-Spec. At my office, we now exclusively use this test.
Vitamin D deficiency has so many adverse effects on our body that I plan to continue in the near future with an additional blog on the many full roles of Vitamin D in human health. If you are interested in learning more about Vitamin D I refer you to the Vitamin D Council website.