Tag Archives: vitamin d


Thanks to Aimee McNew at at PaleoHacks for this great article!

Move over, vitamin C—there’s a new flu buster in town 

It turns out that vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is every bit as important as its antioxidant counterparts whenever the immune system is under duress, like during a cold or flu.  

If you’re one of those people who keeps getting sick and you don’t know why, read on. Here’s how this underestimated sunshine vitamin can help boost immunity and fight viral infections.  


The Basics of Vitamin D 

First, it’s important to understand that vitamin D isn’t a “vitamin” at all, but rather a prohormone that is synthesized in response to interaction between cholesterol, the skin, and sun exposure.  

Vitamin D is widely studied for all kinds of health benefits, like bone health, calcium absorption, heart health, and immunity. [1-10] While experts differ on how much vitamin D is needed to provide protection and avoid symptoms of insufficiency or deficiency, nearly everyone agrees that you can’t get enough vitamin D from food alone. [8] This might explain why even if you’re sipping on that gut-healing bone broth, it might not be enough to keep you fully protected from the flu.  


Why You Need Vitamin D to Boost Immunity 

When you take vitamin D, you lower your chances of getting sick from viral infections, like colds and the flu, by at least 10 percent. But people who are deficient in vitamin D actually see a greater protective benefit when they supplement, reducing their risk by 50 percent. [11]  

Most Americans get far less than the recommended daily allowance for vitamin D of 600 IU, setting the stage for rampant deficiencies. Certain people, like those with Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, osteoporosis, or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, have an even higher risk of being deficient because of issues with absorption in the intestines and because of greater demands. 

Cold and flu viruses are contagious respiratory infections that affect the nose, throat, and lungs with symptoms like congestion, coughing, wheezing, sore throat, body aches, and fever. The flu, in particular, can have serious consequences in people who are at risk: the elderly, infants, young children, people with suppressed immunity, and those with other chronic disorders. On any given year, approximately 10 percent of the population gets the flu, but during epidemic flu seasons, it can be as high as 20 percent. [12, 13] There are several overlapping factors that are associated to both the severity of the flu and being at risk of vitamin D deficiency, including: 

  • Age (under age 2 or over age 65) 
  • Pregnancy 
  • Chronic disease (diabetes, heart disease, autoimmunity, etc.)
  • Suppressed immunity (HIV, AIDS) 


Vitamin D Reduces Risk of the Flu 

While flu vaccines are common, they only address a few strains based on the best guesses by experts of which strains will predominate. Sometimes experts guess wrong, rendering the flu vaccine less effective during those seasons. What doesn’t change, however, is the immune system’s reliance on vitamin D levels, making it a more secure way to boost immunity and avoid the flu. Research even shows that optimal vitamin D levels boost the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. [14] 

One study even drew a direct link between vitamin D levels and the risk of getting the flu: Those with the lowest serum concentrations had the highest chances of getting viral infections[15]  

Receptors for vitamin D are located on cell surfaces in the immune system, allowing vitamin D to bind to them. When this happens, vitamin D reduces inflammatory cytokines that perpetuate illness. It also boosts the proteins that fight bacteria and viruses; which are essentially the natural versions of antibiotics that protect the body from infection. 

Vitamin D boosts the innate branch of the immune system – the body’s first line of defense against infection – which mounts an attack against foreign invaders. The response time for this branch of the immune system is strongly associated with our ability to ward off illness or shorten the duration of sickness. [16] When vitamin D levels are low, immune cells respond slower and the innate immune response is not as rapid as it should be. 

Even if you do get sick, increase your vitamin D levels immediately for faster recovery. When your levels are too low, your body will struggle longer to bounce back. 

Research shows that for every 4 ng/mL increase in your vitamin D concentrations in the blood, you lower your odds of getting the flu by seven percent. It’s not coincidental that flu season peaks as our natural ability to produce vitamin D falls due to reduced sun exposure in the colder months. [17]  


How to Supplement with Vitamin D 

If you cannot get sun exposure regularly—as many Americans do not from September through March each year—then supplementation is essential to maintain steady levels. Vitamin D3 is considered to be the natural form and is most effective at raising serum concentrations[18]. Dosage recommendations range from 400 IU to upwards of 10,000 IU, depending on health conditions and other factors, like absorption. [19] 

The Vitamin D Council suggests that adults take between 5,000 and 10,000 IU per day, depending on body weight. Children should take 1,000 IU daily per 25 pounds of body weight (up to 125 pounds). The best bet when it comes to supplementing with vitamin D is to have your doctor test your levels and advise you on the proper dosage for your health factors. 

Vitamin D supplements absorb best when paired with fish oil or fatty foods to optimize absorption. [20]  

Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient – meaning your body has limited ability to excrete it – levels can become toxic in the body with over-supplementation, so get your blood levels checked before supplementing. A healthy blood range is above 30 ng/mL, with insufficiency falling between 20 and 29 ng/mL, and deficiency anything below 20 ng/mL. [21]  


Bottom Line 

Vitamin D is a critical nutrient for immune support. When the body is low in this nutrient, immune system cells will have slower response times to viral invaders, sickness duration will be longer, and overall immunity will be suppressed. 

Vitamin D is one of the few nutrients that doesn’t have an abundance of food sources. Wwere designed to produce most of the vitamin D we need in the skin from sun exposure. But between food and supplements, as well as sun exposure in the warmer months, we can optimize our vitamin D levels for overall health. 



1.Klibanski, A., et al., Osteoporosis prevention, diagnosis, and therapy. Jama-Journal of the American Medical Association, 2001. 285(6): p. 785-795. 

2.Holick, M.F., Vitamin D: importance in the prevention of cancers, type 1 diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2004. 79(3): p. 362-371. 

3.Dawson-Hughes, B., et al., Estimates of optimal vitamin D status. Osteoporosis International, 2005. 16(7): p. 713-716. 

4.Bischoff-Ferrari, H.A., et al., Estimation of optimal serum concentrations of 25-hydroxyvitamin D for multiple health outcomes. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2006. 84(1): p. 18-28. 

5.Holick, M.F., High prevalence of vitamin D inadequacy and implications for health. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 2006. 81(3): p. 353-373. 

6.Jackson, R.D., et al., Calcium plus vitamin D supplementation and the risk of fractures. New England Journal of Medicine, 2006. 354(7): p. 669-683. 

7.Holick, M.F., Vitamin D deficiency. New England Journal of Medicine, 2007. 357(3): p. 266-281. 

8.Holick, M.F. and T.C. Chen, Vitamin D deficiency: a worldwide problem with health consequences. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008. 87(4): p. 1080S-1086S. 

9.Ross, A.C., et al., The 2011 Report on Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D from the Institute of Medicine: What Clinicians Need to Know. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2011. 96(1): p. 53-58. 

10.Gillespie, L.D., et al., Interventions for preventing falls in older people living in the community. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2012(9): p. 408. 

11.Martineau, A.R., et al., Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data. BMJ, 2017. 356: p. i6583. 

12.Molinari, N.A., et al., The annual impact of seasonal influenza in the US: measuring disease burden and costs. Vaccine, 2007. 25(27): p. 5086-96. 

13.Shrestha, S.S., et al., Estimating the burden of 2009 pandemic influenza A (H1N1) in the United States (April 2009-April 2010). Clin Infect Dis, 2011. 52 Suppl 1: p. S75-82. 

14.Gruber-Bzura, B.M., Vitamin D and Influenza-Prevention or Therapy? International journal of molecular sciences, 2018. 19(8): p. 2419. 

15.Laaksi, I., et al., An association of serum vitamin D concentrations < 40 nmol/L with acute respiratory tract infection in young Finnish men. Am J Clin Nutr, 2007. 86(3): p. 714-7. 

16.Cannell, J.J., et al., On the epidemiology of influenza. Virol J, 2008. 5: p. 29. 

17.Berry, D.J., et al., Vitamin D status has a linear association with seasonal infections and lung function in British adults. Br J Nutr, 2011. 106(9): p. 1433-40. 

18.Nair, R. and A. Maseeh, Vitamin D: The “sunshine” vitamin. Journal of pharmacology & pharmacotherapeutics, 2012. 3(2): p. 118-126. 

19.Heaney, R.P., Vitamin D in health and disease. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol, 2008. 3(5): p. 1535-41. 

20.Korkor, A.B. and C. Bretzmann, Effect of fish oil on vitamin D absorption. Am J Kidney Dis, 2009. 53(2): p. 356. 

21.Holick, M.F., et al., Evaluation, treatment, and prevention of vitamin D deficiency: an Endocrine Society clinical practice guideline. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 2011. 96(7): p. 1911-30. 


If you’re following an authentic, modern-day Paleo lifestyle, then you’re well aware that the lifestyle involves much more than what you’re eating.

While mimicking what our ancestors ate (incidentally, we don’t even have to go as far back as our ancestors; let’s even take a cue from our grandparents) is indeed the foundation of creating a plan designed to achieve optimal health and performance, there are other aspects of our day to day regimen that are also important.

You’re moving your body.

You’re spending at least a little time with your feet on the bare earth and you’re allowing for ample time to rest and recover.

In addition, you’re also spending time outdoors, breathing in fresh air and getting natural sunlight in order to help your body get the vitamin D it needs…or, are you preventing this natural process from occurring by coating your body with sunscreen for fear of prematurely aging your skin or worse, developing skin cancer?

Some are taking it to extremes. A growing number of well-meaning parents are slathering sunscreen on their kids causing debilitating results. Nearly one out of five American kids between ages 1 and 11 have blood levels of vitamin D below the 50 nmol/L recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which is contributing to a rise in rickets, vitamin D deficiency, and can lead to chronic pain and short stature (1).

But rickets is far from being the only concern when a lack of Vitamin D is occurring; a low level of the vitamin which acts like a hormone is linked to a number of other conditions, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, respiratory tract infections, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis, among others.

What’s the balance between sun safety without overdoing it to the point where you’ve prevented this key process from taking place?And does what we’re eating play any role in how safe we are in the sun?

Undoubtedly, and vitamin D deficiency is yet one more topic in the broad spectrum of health concerns in our society today that can be alleviated or even eliminated by incorporating an anti-inflammatory eating regime.

The Skin Cancer Foundation states on their website (3) the importance of incorporating antioxidant rich foods into your diet in order to help prevent skin cancer. Antioxidant-rich foods are easy to find them in many everyday nourishing whole foods.

While the Skin Cancer Foundation doesn’t go so far as to literally recommend a Paleo approach, they do suggest, “The more varied and colorful the array of foods you eat, the more weapons you amass in your anticancer army. Hearty, nutritious, multifaceted meals can help your body fend off damage and disease with waves of powerful antioxidants, immune boosters and anti-inflammatories… One great power regimen combining a wealth of anticancer nutrients is a plant-based diet rich in active, potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods, featuring nutritionally rich foods such as cruciferous and green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, citrus fruit, fresh herbs, fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, wine and olive oil.”

A study of more than 600 people eating this way cut their melanoma incidence compared to others who did not follow this health-boosting approach (4).

So, does that mean we can simply stick to the Paleo diet and not think twice about heading out into the great outdoors without so much as an afterthought about overexposure to sun and subsequent burns?

Unfortunately, no. The sun’s rays aren’t what they used to be. With the ozone layer having depleted by as much as 20 percent in some areas (5), we have to be more mindful than our ancestors were.

This doesn’t mean, however, that we’ve got to pile on the chemicals.   

Whether you choose to go the route of many of the safe options for sunscreen on the market these days (6), or choose to test out a more natural approach (such as some of the DIY approaches using coconut oil as a base), simply being aware and mindful that some sun is essential and it needn’t be avoided like the plague is a great starting point.

Eating real, whole foods plays a huge role in the equation, and by factoring in some common sense, we cover all our bases and hedge our bets to keep safe in the sun, while also allowing our bodies to make that crucial vitamin D we require.


1. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/124/5/1404?sso=1&sso_redirect_count=1&nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR%3a+No+local+token

2. http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_kids/2017/05/vitamin_d_deficiency_in_kids_why_to_worry_and_what_to_do_about_it.html

3. https://www.skincancer.org/prevention/can-your-diet-help-prevent-skin-cancer

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4516764/

5. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/ozone-depletion/

6. https://www.beautycounter.com/nellstephenson?goto=/products&search=sunscreen


Autism | The Paleo Diet

The word “autism” conjures up a number of different images, which vary widely depending on the person. Traditionally thought of as a very debilitating disorder of neural development, the public awareness of autism has grown and expanded with time.1 With the elimination of Asperger’s from the DSM-5, and its replacement with just ‘autism’ (with accompanying degrees of severity);2 patients now vary widely, from barely functioning to highly functioning. This fascinating condition has no cure, and its causation, and/or mechanism of action, remains a mystery.3 Humans with autism typically exhibit impaired social skills, apparent lack of empathy for others, and repetitive movement patterns. Depending on the severity, altered cognitive function is also observed.4 It is important to note that autism is diagnosed on a spectrum, meaning that someone with high functioning autism may have a near-genius level IQ, but someone lower on the spectrum may not.

As we look into the science behind autism, we see that nerve cells and synapses are altered, both in organization and connectivity.5 How exactly these are altered, is not well understood. One interesting fact regarding prevalence of autism, is that males are four times as likely to be diagnosed as females.6 The underlying cause of this discrepancy is not understood or agreed upon. Within the first 3 years of a child’s life, autism symptoms are usually observed, and hopefully diagnosed. With proper forms of therapy, quality of life can improve. However, heartbreakingly, oftentimes people with autism cannot live alone in adulthood.7 The social aspects of autism are heartbreaking and frustrating, both for those suffering from it, and those related to them. As reported in a study8 by Audrey F. Burgess and Steven E. Gutstein “children with high-functioning autism suffer from more intense and frequent loneliness compared to non-autistic peers, despite the common belief that children with autism prefer to be alone. Making and maintaining friendships often proves to be difficult for those with autism. For them, the quality of friendships, not the number of friends, predicts how lonely they feel.” Keep in mind that this quote refers to HIGH functioning forms of autism. Imagine how a child lower on the spectrum may feel.

But what does diet have to do with a neurological development disorder? Well, as is becoming increasingly well known in the scientific community,9 important neurotransmitters like serotonin are all altered by dietary choices.10 So what does the scientific literature say about autism and diet? In short, quite a bit.11 The anti-inflammatory effects of a diet based on real, whole foods, such as the Paleo Diet, will certainly help many biomarkers related to autism12, 13 To what degree, is still being debated.

Via what mechanism can food alter brain activity? Well, exorphins from grains and dairy can cross the blood-brain barrier and act as opioids in the brain.14 Yes, you read that correctly. Since sufferers of autism typically exhibit ‘leaky gut,’15 the proposed mechanism of action is that these exorphins make their way to the brain, and cause developmental delays.16 This is backed up by different studies,17 and is linked with celiac disease and other conditions like schizophrenia.18 The same mechanism, albeit with addiction-like properties, can be implicated in those suffering from binge eating and obesity, as well.19

There are even more interesting theories, such as the one proposed by John Cannell, M.D., relating low vitamin D levels and damage to the brain.20 As Cannell writes “if your genetics deal you low numbers of VDRs and you have to deal with vitamin D deficiency as well, your developing brain loses. The autism geneticists have been looking for mutations. It is not a mutation; the small de novo mutations they do find (in all 23 pairs of chromosomes) are effects, not causes, of autism because vitamin D deficiency impairs DNA repair mechanisms.”21 This is particularly ground breaking research that deserves more recognition. As Emily Deans, M.D., has also excellently pointed out,22 autism and schizophrenia both exhibit similar gene deletion syndromes, like 1q21.1 deletion syndrome.23 Coincidence? Maybe. But this is certainly an interesting hypothesis.

While no doubt autism and diet are still somewhat controversially linked, it is definitely worth a families’ time and effort to try out a Paleo Diet, because the results can be life-changing. Someone suffering with this disorder deserves the best quality of life possible.


1. Wing L, Potter D. The epidemiology of autistic spectrum disorders: is the prevalence rising?. Ment Retard Dev Disabil Res Rev. 2002;8(3):151-61.

2. Huerta M, Bishop SL, Duncan A, Hus V, Lord C. Application of DSM-5 criteria for autism spectrum disorder to three samples of children with DSM-IV diagnoses of pervasive developmental disorders. Am J Psychiatry. 2012;169(10):1056-64.

3. Shelton JF, Hertz-picciotto I, Pessah IN. Tipping the balance of autism risk: potential mechanisms linking pesticides and autism. Environ Health Perspect. 2012;120(7):944-51.

4. Dawson G, Webb SJ, Wijsman E, et al. Neurocognitive and electrophysiological evidence of altered face processing in parents of children with autism: implications for a model of abnormal development of social brain circuitry in autism. Dev Psychopathol. 2005;17(3):679-97.

5. Gutierrez RC, Hung J, Zhang Y, Kertesz AC, Espina FJ, Colicos MA. Altered synchrony and connectivity in neuronal networks expressing an autism-related mutation of neuroligin 3. Neuroscience. 2009;162(1):208-21.

6. Newschaffer CJ, Croen LA, Daniels J, et al. The epidemiology of autism spectrum disorders. Annu Rev Public Health. 2007;28:235-58.

7. Marriage S, Wolverton A, Marriage K. Autism spectrum disorder grown up: a chart review of adult functioning. J Can Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2009;18(4):322-8.

8. Quality of Life for People with Autism: Raising the Standard for Evaluating Successful Outcomes. Child and Adolescent Mental Health. 12(2):80.

9. Available at: //www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/can-what-you-eat-affect-your-mental-health-new-research-links-diet-and-the-mind/2014/03/24/c6b40876-abc0-11e3-af5f-4c56b834c4bf_story.html. Accessed May 16, 2014.

10. Young SN. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2007;32(6):394-9.

11. Available at: //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/?term=autism diet. Accessed May 16, 2014.

12. Herbert MR, Buckley JA. Autism and dietary therapy: case report and review of the literature. J Child Neurol. 2013;28(8):975-82.

13. Nadon G, Feldman DE, Dunn W, Gisel E. Association of sensory processing and eating problems in children with autism spectrum disorders. Autism Res Treat. 2011;2011:541926.

14. Available at: //www.childrensdisabilities.info/allergies/developmentaldisordersprotein7.html. Accessed May 16, 2014.

15. De magistris L, Familiari V, Pascotto A, et al. Alterations of the intestinal barrier in patients with autism spectrum disorders and in their first-degree relatives. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2010;51(4):418-24.

16. Elder JH. The gluten-free, casein-free diet in autism: an overview with clinical implications. Nutr Clin Pract. 2008;23(6):583-8.

17. Dubynin VA, Malinovskaia IV, Beliaeva IuA, et al. [Delayed effect of exorphins on learning of albino rat pups]. Izv Akad Nauk Ser Biol. 2008;(1):53-60.

18. Severance EG, Alaedini A, Yang S, et al. Gastrointestinal inflammation and associated immune activation in schizophrenia. Schizophr Res. 2012;138(1):48-53.

19. Drewnowski A, Krahn DD, Demitrack MA, Nairn K, Gosnell BA. Naloxone, an opiate blocker, reduces the consumption of sweet high-fat foods in obese and lean female binge eaters. Am J Clin Nutr. 1995;61(6):1206-12.

20. Cannell JJ, Grant WB. What is the role of vitamin D in autism?. Dermatoendocrinol. 2013;5(1):199-204.

21. John Cannell, M. (2014). Mechanism of action in autism? | Vitamin D Council. [online] Vitamindcouncil.org. Available at: https://www.vitamindcouncil.org/the-paleo-diet-blog/mechanism-of-action-in-autism/ [Accessed 16 May. 2014].

22. Available at: //www.psychologytoday.com/the-paleo-diet-blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201104/diet-and-autism-newer-studies-and-intriguing-links. Accessed May 16, 2014.

23. Bottillo I, Castori M, De bernardo C, et al. Prenatal diagnosis and post-mortem examination in a fetus with thrombocytopenia-absent radius (TAR) syndrome due to compound heterozygosity for a 1q21.1 microdeletion and a RBM8A hypomorphic allele: a case report. BMC Res Notes. 2013;6:376.

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