In the May, 2012 issue of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, Spanish researchers describe impairments in immune function in association with reduced levels of vitamin D.
Victor Manuel Martinez-Taboada, MD and his associates at the Unversidad de Cantabria in Santander, Spain measured serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels in subjects aged 20 to 30, 31 to 59 and 60 to 86 years. They observed an age-related decline in serum vitamin D, with 5% of young, 21.7% of middle aged and 31.6% of the elderly subjects having levels less than 20 nanograms per milliliter, which was the level considered normal by the researchers. This led to the evaluation of vitamin D's relationship with toll-like receptor expression on white blood cells known as lymphocytes and monocytes. Toll-like receptors are proteins involved in innate immune system function that alert the immune system to microbial infections. The researchers discovered that the toll-like receptor that was impacted the most by insufficient vitamin D levels is toll-like receptor 7 (TLR7), which regulates the immune response to viruses.
"There are numerous studies showing the benefits of maintaining adequate vitamin D levels," commented Dr Martinez-Taboada. "As more and more research into vitamin D is conducted, we are learning that it is extremely important for human health. Our study is no different, and vitamin D supplements should be considered one of many tools that might help when conventional therapies are not enough."
"This study shows that sunlight, or more precisely the lack of vitamin D, could have a role in the seasonally higher rates of infection," commented John Wherry, PhD, who is the Journal of Leukocyte Biology's deputy editor. "More extensive studies must be conducted for this link to be conclusive, but since vitamin D supplements are inexpensive and generally safe, this is a really exciting discovery."
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