Treating Allergy Symptoms with Vitamin D
Somewhere around 30% of American adults suffer from allergies (40% of kids) and about 8% have asthma. What if those numbers had something to do with the fact that nearly half of American adults are deficient in vitamin D?
Some doctors, scientists, and researchers are starting to say: yes, there could be a connection.
This article is going to show you the science behind why vitamin D may be a great helper for improving your allergy symptoms (or preventing your child’s!). It’s also going to show you how some of the science is conflicting and how you can sort it out to make the best decision for you.
Many of Us Don’t Have Enough Vitamin D
The majority of our vitamin D needs are going to come from the sun. While there are some great food sources and high-quality supplements, they will never fully take the place of good old-fashioned sunshine.
But most adults work inside all day, and most children are staying inside far more than they ever have before. Though sunscreen is really important, our reliance on it is blocking some of those essential moments of soaking up a safe amount of necessary UV rays.
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This is leaving most of us at an inefficient or deficient place with vitamin D.
In fact, when it comes to kids and teens, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) figures that around 61% of those under the age of 21 are insufficient in proper vitamin D levels. And as I’ve already mentioned, well over 40% of adults are deficient as well.
When we were growing up, most of us learned to associate vitamin D with healthy bones. But we missed the part where it plays a huge role in the support of our immune systems – and our immune systems have such a big role to play in allergies and asthma. Here’s why:
Inflammation is our body’s response to something harmful. When you get a splinter, your body gets swollen and red on purpose. White blood cells are in the process of saving your life. When you get a virus, your runny nose and headache are symptoms of your immune system saving your life yet again.
But our inflammatory process gets it wrong many times. Sometimes your immune system thinks things like dust or pollen in the air are bad for you, so it kicks into gear and triggers the inflammatory process to “save your life” from things that are completely harmless. Then you’re left with uncomfortable allergies.
Many studies have shown that vitamin D plays a vital role in our immune system and inflammatory response. They have associated frequency of infections with lower vitamin D levels and they know supplementing vitamin D helps improve acute infections.
They also know that many inflammatory diseases are associated with lower vitamin D levels (including asthma!).
But what has scientific study looking at allergies directly shown us?
The Vitamin D/Allergy Connection
Here’s the deal: while many studies are pointing to the fact that vitamin D plays a big role in allergies, asthma and your lung/airway function in general, the truth is that the science is a little shaky at the moment.
Let’s start off with one study that looked at 1833 children younger than 16 years old. The researchers interviewed their parents with a questionnaire that asked questions about vitamin D intake, food intake, demographic information, non-dietary activities, and more.
They found that the children with allergic rhinitis, asthma, and wheezing were “significantly” more vitamin D deficient than the children with proper D levels. Unsurprisingly, the kids with the deficiency spent significantly less time in the sun.
There are many studies like this showing the connection between deficiency and allergies. However, scientists believe it has a lot to do with both gender and age, and there have not been nearly enough studies to create one solid conclusion.
For example, one study in Norway showed supplementing vitamin D really helped reduce the risk of allergic rhinitis in women, but not in men. Another study in Iran showed more consistency between the sexes. Similarly, where one study shows maternal vitamin D supplementation can lower the risk of allergic rhinitis in babies, others show it doesn’t.
Then again, this study confirmed maternal intake of vitamin D helped prevent allergies when the vitamin D came from food sources:
Next, the role vitamin D plays on allergies does not stop at seasonal allergies. There’s implications with food allergies as well.
Studies have shown that children who live further away from the equator (so they have less exposure to UVR) go to the hospital for food allergy issues more than those who live closer to the equator.
What’s even more interesting is babies born during fall or winter also have a higher risk of food allergies than those born during months where they will see a lot more sunshine.
When it comes to food sources of vitamin D, one study showed children who are introduced to eggs at 4 to 6 months are less likely to develop a food allergy than children introduced to eggs later than 6 months.
The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology wants it to be clear that there is no solid proof that taking vitamin D can reverse a food allergy that already exists in a person. However, these studies should show us the important role vitamin D may play in allergy development.
These findings are important since food allergy prevalence is now considered an epidemic in Western countries – in fact, around 10% of 1-year-olds have a confirmed food allergy.
So What Does All of This Mean?
Though some studies are conflicting and research needs to be continued – most sources conclude that some vitamin D intervention in those with insufficient or deficient amounts of vitamin D is probably the right course of action.
One scientific review of vitamin D and allergic rhinitis reported:
Both experimental and clinical studies have shown that vitamin D is associated with AR, although the results are not consistent and even conflicting. Evidence from those clinical studies show a slight tendency that serum vitamin D level might be inversely associated with the risk of AR. Meanwhile, it seems that gender and age may influence the relationship between vitamin D and AR. All these findings need to be confirmed by more studies.
Go to your doctor or naturopath and get a blood panel. This will be able to give you a better idea if you qualify as insufficient or deficient in vitamin D. If you are, it is good to up those levels to a healthy sufficiency not just for your allergies, but also for your whole entire body.
If your vitamin D levels are already strong, there is not yet a conclusive agreement that extra vitamin D will help your allergy symptoms at this time. But you can talk to your doctor to see what a safe amount of supplementation is for you and give it a try.
How to Get More Vitamin D
If you’ve learned that you are insufficient or deficient in vitamin D, there are three main steps you can take to correct the problem.
- Get Outside: This is #1. You have to spend time outside in order to get proper amounts of vitamin D. If you’re only going to be outside for a minute or two, go out without sunscreen and allow the UV to create the proper amount of D (of course, if you’re going out for a while, proper sun protection is a must)
- Supplement: When you take a vitamin D supplement, be sure you are getting D3. D2 is not absorbed nearly as well by the body. For me, the best way to do this is taking it in conjunction with other all-natural asthma and allergy supplements like quercetin, boswellia, nettle, coleus forskohlii, and butterbur.
- Eat Right: Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines are great sources of vitamin D. Eggs and dairy products are good choices as well. If you are a vegan, make sure you focus on the previous two methods.
Keep in mind, getting plenty of sunshine and eating healthful foods high in vitamin D are important steps to take for anybody – even if you aren’t currently insufficient – in order to maintain healthy vitamin D levels and reduce your chances of developing health problems in the future.
More D, Less Sneeze?
So it looks like getting plenty of vitamin D may have a positive effect on your allergy symptoms. Your next step is to get blood work done so you know exactly where you stand. And for all of us with indoor jobs/school – let’s make it a point to get outside a bit more each day than we have been. It could actually save our health and our lives.