Optimizing the immune system with vitamin D
Low vitamin D levels have been linked to everything from depression and anxiety to cardiovascular function and neurodegenerative disorders. Since the onset of the pandemic, consumers have gravitated toward the sunshine vitamin for its immune support. More recently, researchers published findings that suggest there is a linear relationship between vitamin D levels and Covid mortality.
According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s 2021 survey, vitamin D usage in the United States jumped 10%, going 42% in 2020 to 52% in 2021. The survey also found that 45% of respondents indicated they’ve had their vitamin D levels checked by a health care provider at some point during the pandemic.
Last year CRN announced the launch of Vitamin D & Me!, a consumer education website on vitamin D and COVID-19. The website shares research, expert video interviews, news, and education in a user-friendly format and focuses on US consumers ages 55+.
The content for Vitamin D & Me! was developed by contract research organization and CRN member company Nutrasource.
“Nutrasource was selected to provide fair and balanced unbiased content during the pandemic as relates to vitamin D’s role in immune health. There are some side areas of interest, but that's really the core focus– to bring to light and raise awareness around vitamin D’s very specific role in immune health and immune wellness,” explained Nutrasource president and CEO Will Rowe. “We not only look at the clinical literature in the published literature retrospectively, but we’re also proactive and stay tied in and aware as things become published, whether they are specific studies or meta-analyses review papers.”
Susan Hewlings, PhD, RD, director of scientific affairs at Nutrasource, said vitamin D supplements alone are not enough. In order to ensure that the body is absorbing the vitamin D, other vitamins should be included
“Vitamin D is critical for overall health and wellness. But that being said, vitamin D in and of itself alone is not enough. In other words, you can't just take vitamin D and then have the rest of your health and nutrition be subpar or unhealthy, and it be okay. Vitamin D levels are really a reflection of your overall diet and nutrient intake, it's not in a silo. While we're highlighting vitamin D, we're fully recognizing the importance of overall nutrient intake, diet, health, wellness, exercise, all of which contribute to the idea that you can make a very tangible difference in your health and your health outcomes. And I think that this has been a really awesome opportunity because one of the challenges when you look at diet and disease connections has always been the fact that oftentimes there's a long latency period, so it makes it hard for the individual person to make it tangible. In other words, there's oftentimes a long period from exposure or from dietary behaviors and disease outcomes. So it makes it seem less connected. When we look at immunity, especially in the current context of immunity, it's a shorter latency period. And so I think it's a unique opportunity for us to really look at the impact that our health behaviors have on us in our short term and our long-term health."
Hewlings added that unlike some other vitamins, D is fairly easy to measure and quantify.
Both Hewlings and Rowe said they hope this initiative empowers people to take control of their health and serve as a reminder that they have a direct impact on their health outcomes.
“There are many factors one can't control in one's own health, as it relates to covid or general wellness. Things like age, heredity, genetics, certain environmental factors, climates–those are things you can't control that have an impact on one's health. But vitamin D is a relatively inexpensive tool in the toolkit that is readily accessible and also very well distributed. It's very well known and has a decades-old history in the clinical literature and the scientific published literature in terms of having a very solid safety profile and a number of positive areas of efficacy that it contributes toward. If it's required as a supplement and it's fortified in many foods or available in many foods as well. So that's one key area where the individual consumer is really empowered to take control of that aspect of their own health when there's so many other areas that are outside of their control,” said Rowe.
Vaccine response and recovery
Hewlings said another key piece to the immunity puzzle is nutrition as it relates to vaccine response and Covid-19 recovery.
“I think an important part of immunity right now is what differentiates how people respond to vaccines in general, not just not just covid-19 vaccines. And what role can nutrition play in that, if any, and kind of defining and identifying that,” said Hewlings. “I recently saw a meta-analysis that looked at recovery from Covid-19 and it identified that 80% of the people had lingering or long-term side effects from Covid-19. So I think that in the immune space is a unique opportunity to try to identify what differentiates people with certain side effects from those who don't, and is there a role for the nutrition and dietary supplements? So those are two areas I'm kind of watching closely.”
Shaping public opinion
Covid-19 has put science under the microscope like never before. And as we continue to live in these uncertain times, science will be key. Hewlings said we’re in an era where we must improve the public opinion of science, and the Vitamin D & Me! Initiative provides an opportunity to do that.
“There is a real hunger and thirst for fair and balanced information as it relates to science and health data and I think that this platform does attempt to deliver that,” Rowe added.
“This is a great opportunity to show the dietary supplement industry in a different light to consumers as well. I think it's got an ancient reputation for only being about sales and making money and that sort of thing. And the fact that there's opportunities out there for the dietary supplement industry as a whole to make valuable contributions to science and public health in general is exciting to me,” said Hewlings.