Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sunlight, vitamin D and asthma in children

A current study shows African-American children with asthma are significantly more likely to have low levels of vitamin D than healthy African-American children.[1] Vitamin D deficiency in children with asthma was twenty times more likely than in healthy children.

This research is simply one of the latest proofs that the profound increase in asthma in the last few decades has been caused to a great extent by our societal exodus from sunlight exposure, along with the increased use of sunscreen, which can inhibit up to 99% of vitamin D production by the skin.[2]

Drs Litonjua and Weiss, in a medical hypothesis presented in 2007, made a strong case for vitamin D deficiency as a major player in the increase in asthma incidence among both children and adults.[3] They stated the following:

1. “… as populations grow more prosperous, more time is spent indoors, and there is less exposure to sunlight, leading to decreased cutaneous vitamin D production.”
2. “Vitamin D has been linked to immune system and lung development in utero, and our epidemiologic studies show that higher vitamin D intake by pregnant mothers reduces asthma risk by as much as 40% in children 3 to 5 years old.”
3. "Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with obesity, African American race (particularly in urban, inner-city settings), and recent immigrants to westernized countries, thus reflecting the epidemiologic patterns observed in the asthma epidemic."

These researchers might have also said that the Powers of Darkness—those who have a vested interest in convincing the populace to avoid all sunlight exposure and to cover up with sunscreens—are to a great extent responsible for the asthma pandemic that is gripping the nation. Reasonable, non burning sunlight exposure sunlight is normal and natural for children and adults, and those who would deprive us of that critically important contributor to human health should have the guilt of their actions weighing heavily on their consciences.

[1] Freishtat RJ, Iqbal SF, Pillai DK, Klein CJ, Ryan LM, Benton AS, Teach SJ. High prevalence of vitamin D deficiency among inner-city African American youth with asthma in Washington, DC. J Pediatr 2010;156:948-52.
[2] Matsuoka, L. et al. sunscreens suppress cutaneous vitamin D3 synthesis. Journal Clini Endocrinol Metab 1987; 64:1165-68.
[3] Litonjua AA, Weiss ST. Is vitamin D deficiency to blame for the asthma epidemic? J Allergy Clin Immunol 2007;120:1031–1035.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Vitamin D deficiency and death from diarrhea—another reason to return to the sunlight

WebMD just posted an article regarding research on vitamin D levels and a particular “superbug,” clostridium difficile or C. diff, which causes severe diarrhea and death.

C. Diff occurs primarily in people who have been taking broad-spectrum antibiotics that kill the friendly bacteria that would keep this superbug under control.

The author noted that 53% of the patients with “normal” levels of vitamin D were able to resolve the infection and then remain free of diarrhea after 30 days. In those with “low” vitamin D levels, only 26% resolved the infection and remained free of diarrhea after 30 days.

The researchers defined low vitamin D levels as 21 ng/ml, which is very low indeed, since a level of 32 is considered the lowest level for good health, and most scientists now recommend levels of about 60 ng/ml as optimal. I’m assuming that “normal” levels were considered to be anything over 21 ng/ml.

Vitamin D has been known for some time to be a potent antibiotic which breaks down the cell walls of both bacteria and viruses. However, it is not a “broad-spectrum” antibiotic—an antibiotic that kills not only the disease-causing pathogens—but also the friendly bacteria in the intestine that work to keep such pathogens at bay. Vitamin D recognizes only the foreign invader (pathogen) that can damage the body. Unfortunately, many pathogens develop resistance to antibiotic drugs, and the drugs cannot then kill the pathogen, which has a heyday because it is unopposed by the friendly bacteria that would normally thwart its action; hence, we have the term “superbug.”

Vitamin D works by stimulating the immune system’s army of cells such as T cells[1] and macrophages[2] to attack and destroy pathogens. There is no research I am aware of indicating that any pathogen develops a resistance to vitamin D. As antibiotics become less and less effective in fighting pathogens, optimal levels of vitamin D may become our last line of defense.

The WebMD article also points out that “Overall, 40% of the patients died during the month." A total of 67% of patients with low vitamin D levels died compared with 44% of those with normal vitamin D levels…” This indicates that the levels considered normal were not normal at all, and probably came nowhere near the optimal levels of 60 ng/ml.

And who is responsible for this loss of life? It is obviously the Powers of Darkness, those organizations that profit from teaching us that we should “protect” ourselves from any contact with sunlight or other sources of natural vitamin D production such as sun lamps. It behooves us to return to the habit of regular, non-burning sunlight exposure, such as sunbathing, preferably around midday. That certainly seems like a terrific alternative to death by diarrhea. Would you agree?

[1] von Essen MR, Kongsbak M, Schjerling P, Olgaard K, Odum N, Geisler C.. Vitamin D controls T cell antigen receptor signaling and activation of human T cells. Nat Immunol. 2010;11:344-49 .
[2] Kamen DL, Tangpricha V. Vitamin D and molecular actions on the immune system: modulation of innate and autoimmunity. J Mol Med 2010 May;88(5):441-50.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Rheumatoid arthritis, sunlight deprivation and vitamin D—so what’s new?

An interesting study on rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and latitude appeared recently in the online journal, Environmental Health Perspectives.[1] The researchers found that the disease was considerably more prevalent among those living at higher latitudes than at lower latitudes. They had expected to find a relationship between air pollution and RA, but such a relationship did not exist. They concluded that the correlation of high latitudes to RA was probably due to less vitamin-D producing sunlight exposure and consequent vitamin D deficiency. My response is, “This is news?”

There should have been so expression of surprise about the results. RA is one of many autoimmune diseases, and it has long been known that vitamin D has a profound, positive influence on those diseases.[2] These are diseases in which the immune system attacks the body’s own healthy tissue, mistaking that tissue for a foreign invader. When this happens, a specialized immune-system cell (called a T cell) assaults and kills some of the tissue of a targeted organ. Autoimmune diseases, then, are caused by T cells gone awry. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis the immune system attacks the collagen-producing cells of the joints. T cells in a person with an autoimmune disease lack the “intelligence” to recognize that they are attacking the wrong tissue. That intelligence, in part, comes from vitamin D, the receptors of which are found in large quantities in mature T cells and even larger concentrations in immature T cells produced in the thymus gland. Without vitamin D stimulation of the receptor sites, these cells will not function properly. When vitamin D is present however, they have the ability to discern between foreign invaders and the body’s own tissue. Animal experiments show that vitamin D acts as a “selective immunosuppressant” (see footnote 2), meaning that it gives T cells the ability to distinguish between “good and evil.” It is this ability to reduce the autoimmune response, as well as its anti-inflammatory properties that are likely responsible for the lessened risk of RA in sun-deprived areas, and this is further corroborated by the fact that RA is also more severe in winter,[3] a time of less sunshine, and a time when sunlight exposure in northern latitudes does not produce vitamin D.

In another report from researchers in Ireland (a northern country with little sunlight exposure), it was shown that 70% of patients had low vitamin D levels and that 26% were severely deficient.[4] However, in that report, 21 ng/ml was considered as the deficiency level and 10 ng/ml as the severe deficiency level. In reality, a level of 21 is dangerously deficient. It is likely that all of these patients had levels under 32 ng/ml, now considered the lowest level for good health. My opinion is that levels of 50 to 60 are optimal.

Considering this information, it should have come as no surprise that RA was more common at higher latitudes. It is time to return to the sun in the summer and to find ways of maintaining optimal vitamin D levels in the winter through the use of sun lamps.