Vitamin D More Effective than the Flu Shot

From Integrated Roots e-newsletter, October 2010

Multiple studies demonstrate the relationship between vitamin D deficiency and increased susceptibility to catching the cold and flu. In fact, one recent study found adequate vitamin D levels to be more protective against the flu than the flu shot! The Canadian Health Measures survey by Statistics Canada estimates that only 35% of Canadians have adequate vitamin D levels. Are your levels adequate?

Many of us spend quite a bit of time indoors and aren’t surprised to learn that our vitamin D levels are low. However, many people who work regularly outside are still vitamin D deficient. Some of this may be explained by our avid avoidance of sun and use of sunscreen given well-known cancer risks associated with increased sun exposure. Some research actually blames sunscreen use for a greater incidence of Rickets disease, in which vitamin D deficiency causes poor bone development in children.

Low vitamin D levels may also be explained by how often you… bathe! Some research suggests that natural oils on our skin are essential for efficiently absorbing vitamin D from sun exposure, and daily bathing may put us as increased risk of vitamin D deficiency by washing away these oils. Possible solutions to this problem though understandably create other challenges!

Because vitamin D levels are poorly correlated with dietary intake and sun exposure, blood tests are a favourable method for assessing vitamin D status. Vitamin D can be measured with a simple blood test called 25-hydroxy vitamin D that costs $51.70, and may be covered by your extended health insurance plan if ordered by your naturopathic doctor. The test is fortunately covered by OHIP when requisitioned by your medical doctor… but perhaps not for much longer. New legislation was recently proposed that will de-list OHIP-insured vitamin D testing for most people in Ontario, in part because of a 2500% increase in OHIP billing for vitamin D over approximately 5 years (i.e., it’s considered too expensive for our healthcare system to manage). This is of concern not only because of the importance of vitamin D for immune health, but also because vitamin D is an essential nutrient for bone and heart health, cancer prevention and treatment, and treatment of some forms of autoimmune disease, asthma, muscle pain, and mood disorders. If Canadians were to have adequate vitamin D levels, estimates include cost savings in the billions. The proposed legislation has been criticized as another indication of how a politically-oriented healthcare system is incapable of exercising true disease prevention.

If your vitamin D levels are low, discuss with your health practitioner how much vitamin D supplementation is recommended to bring your levels back to a healthier range. Many practitioners recommend supplementing with at least 1000IU of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) daily. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is best taken with a meal.