Vitamin D is a nutrient that plays many roles in the immune system and central nervous system. For example, vitamin D has anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory effects, in part by activating immune defenses and improving the function of immune cells (including T cells and macrophages).
A higher intake of vitamin D, both from natural sunlight and dietary sources, as well as from supplements, offers protection against infections, viruses and also certain disorders related to the immune system. Can vitamin D deficiency cause autoimmune disease? Recent research suggests this could be a possibility.
Although vitamin D deficiency does not directly cause immune diseases, a link has been established between vitamin D deficiency and the development of autoimmune diseases.
- 1 Study: Vitamin D and autoimmune diseases
- 2 What it means
- 3 How does vitamin D help autoimmune diseases?
- 4 Can vitamin D exacerbate autoimmune disease?
- 5 How much vitamin D should you take if you have an autoimmune disease?
- 6 What are the best vitamins for autoimmune diseases?
- 7 Are omega-3s good for autoimmune diseases? Do omega-3s reduce inflammation?
- 8 Source
Study: Vitamin D and autoimmune diseases
A 2022 study published in the journal BMJ was conducted to determine whether or not vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids could reduce the risk of autoimmune disease. This was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial that took place in the United States for more than five years and included more than 25,000 participants over the age of 50.
The conclusions of the study are as follows
– Vitamin D supplementation for five years, with or without omega-3 fatty acids, reduced autoimmune diseases by 22%.
– Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids, with or without vitamin D, helped reduce the rate of autoimmune diseases by 15%. (This result was considered “not statistically significant”).
– Both treatments showed greater effects than placebos.
– Supplementation with both vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids helped reduce autoimmune diseases by about 30% compared to taking placebos.
– The incidence of rheumatoid arthritis was approximately 40% lower in the supplemented groups than in the placebo group.
The study was designed so that participants received vitamin D (1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D) supplements at 2,000 IU/day or matched placebos and omega-3 fatty acids (derived from sources marine) at 1000 mg/day or matched placebos. Participants self-reported all autoimmune diseases throughout the study, which were later confirmed by medical examinations.
The autoimmune diseases that were identified in the participants are:
– rheumatoid arthritis
– polymyalgia rheumatica
– autoimmune thyroid disease
– some others
In the vitamin D group, 123 participants in the treatment group versus 155 in the placebo group had confirmed autoimmune disease.
In the omega-3 fatty acid group, 130 participants in the treatment group versus 148 in the placebo group had confirmed autoimmune disease.
In the group receiving only placebos, 88 people were confirmed to have developed an autoimmune disease. Among the participants who received vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, 63 developed an autoimmune disease, while 60 who received only vitamin D and 67 who received only omega-3 fatty acids have had confirmed autoimmune diseases.
What it means
The BMJ study described above found that a higher intake of vitamin D had the strongest effects in helping to prevent autoimmune diseases. Omega-3s also reduced the risk of autoimmune problems, but not as well as vitamin D.
How does vitamin D help autoimmune diseases?
Autoimmune diseases are chronic conditions characterized by autoimmune inflammatory responses to own tissues. In other words, they occur when a person’s immune system begins to attack the body.
Vitamin D is thought to protect against autoimmune diseases through mechanisms such as:
– the regulation of a set of genes, many of which are involved in inflammation
– suppression of inflammatory cytokines and chemokines (including C-reactive protein and IL-6)
– inhibiting the production of B cell autoantibodies and promoting the differentiation of monocytes into macrophages (other ways to reduce inflammation)
– Increase the production of anti-inflammatory regulatory T cells.
Can vitamin D exacerbate autoimmune disease?
This is unlikely, unless a person is taking very high amounts of vitamin D. As long as you follow the recommendations, vitamin D should not worsen immune system-related health problems.
How much vitamin D should you take if you have an autoimmune disease?
Aim for around 1,000 to 2,000 IU per day. In the study described above, adults received 2000 IU daily. Remember to keep it consistent, as the most protective effects were seen after two years of supplementation.
Other Ways to Fight/Prevent Autoimmune Problems
Here are some other tips to support your immune system:
– Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet to promote gut health.
– Find out if you have any allergies or intolerances, for example to gluten or dairy products.
– Reduce environmental risk factors, such as exposure to toxins, infections and stress.
– Get enough sleep and rest.
– Exercise regularly.
– Fight oxidative damage caused by free radicals by avoiding smoking and drinking too much alcohol.
What are the best vitamins for autoimmune diseases?
Experts believe that people with autoimmune diseases may benefit the most from:
– Vitamin D
– Omega 3
– A quality multivitamin
– Antioxidants, such as resveratrol (the same type found in berries and red wine).
Are omega-3s good for autoimmune diseases? Do omega-3s reduce inflammation?
Yes, as explained above, studies suggest that a higher intake of omega-3s may help protect against the development of autoimmune diseases. It’s well known that, generally speaking, the benefits of omega-3s can include fighting inflammation, supporting healthy blood flow, and more. That said, omega-3 supplementation alone did not significantly reduce the incidence of autoimmune diseases in the BMJ study. This means you should also focus on other healthy lifestyle changes, including improving your diet and taking vitamin D.
On a positive note, other randomized, controlled trials in people with prevalent rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus, and psoriasis have shown improvement in symptoms when taking omega-3s. For example, an observational study found a 49% reduction in the risk of rheumatoid arthritis for every 30 gram increase in daily fatty fish consumption.
Vitamin D and marine omega 3 fatty acid supplementation and incident autoimmune disease: VITAL randomized controlled trial
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