A string of recent discoveries about the multiple health benefits of vitamin D has renewed interest in this multi-purpose nutrient, increased awareness of the huge numbers of people who are deficient in it, spurred research and even led to an appreciation of it as "nature's antibiotic."
On issues ranging from the health of your immune system to prevention of heart disease and even vulnerability to influenza, vitamin D now is seen as one of the most critical nutrients for overall health. But it's also one of those most likely to be deficient - especially during winter when production of the "sunshine vitamin" almost grinds to a halt for millions of people in the United States, Europe and other northern temperate zones.
Analogs of the vitamin are even being considered for use as new therapies against tuberculosis, AIDS, and other concerns. And federal experts are considering an increase in the recommended daily intake of the vitamin as more evidence of its value emerges, especially for the elderly.
"About 70 percent of the population of the United States has insufficient levels of vitamin D," said Adrian Gombart, a principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. "This is a critical issue as we learn more about the many roles it may play in fighting infection, balancing your immune response, helping to address autoimmune problems, and even preventing heart disease."
Those issues were just outlined in a new publication in Future Microbiology, a professional journal, on the latest findings on vitamin D research, at OSU and in many other programs around the world.
Of particular interest are findings made recently by OSU scientists that vitamin D induces the "expression" of cathelicidin, an antimicrobial peptide gene. This explains in part how it helps serve as the first line of defense in your immune response against minor wounds, cuts, and both bacterial and viral infections. Experts believe advances in the use of cathelicidin might form the basis for new therapies.
Vitamin D can be obtained from the diet, often through supplemented foods such as milk, but those sources are rarely adequate, experts say. Most people get the bulk of this fat-soluble vitamin from the UV-B radiation in sun exposure, which naturally causes the skin to produce it. However, people with dark skin, infants and almost anyone living north of about 40 degrees latitude - which is a huge portion of the U.S. population and most of Europe - are often deficient after months of inadequate winter sunshine.