March 2013

Improved Vitamin D Status May Increase Immunity

Improving vitamin D status may significantly affect genes that are involved with immunity against many diseases, a new study reports.

Vitamin D is found in many dietary sources, such as fish, eggs, fortified milk, and cod liver oil. The sun also contributes significantly to the daily production of vitamin D, and as little as 10 minutes of exposure is thought to be enough to prevent deficiencies. Two forms of vitamin D are important in humans: ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) and cholecalciferol (vitamin D3). Vitamin D2 is made by plants. Vitamin D3 is made by humans in the skin when it is exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from sunlight. Foods may be fortified with vitamin D2 or D3.

Previous studies suggest that vitamin D deficiency may increase the risk of conditions such as cancer, heart disease, infectious disease, and autoimmune disease. Researchers set out to determine whether supplementation with vitamin D may affect the risk of developing these illnesses. They recruited eight healthy people, some of whom were deficient in vitamin D (levels of less than 20 nanograms per milliliter). Three subjects received 400 international units (IUs) of vitamin D3 daily, while the other five received 2,000 IUs daily. Supplementation lasted two months, and samples of the participants' immune cells were collected at the beginning and end. The researchers analyzed the samples and looked for changes in gene activity.

The results showed a significant difference in the expression of 66 genes between people who had been vitamin D deficient at the start of the study and those who had not been deficient. After supplementation, the expression of these genes was similar in both groups. People who had been given 2,000 IUs had a better vitamin D status than those given 400 IUs. The researchers found significant changes in the activity of 291 genes involved in pathways linked to cancer, autoimmune disease, heart disease, and infectious conditions.

According to the scientists, these results show that looking at gene expression may help shed light on further benefits of vitamin D.

For more information about vitamin D, please visit Natural Standard's Foods, Herbs & Supplements Database.


  1. Hossein-Nezhad A, Spira A, Holick MF. Influence of vitamin d status and vitamin d3 supplementation on genome wide expression of white blood cells: a randomized double-blind clinical trial.PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e58725. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0058725. Epub 2013 Mar 20. 
  2. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. 

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