Taking vitamin D prevents rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, colitis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and other common autoimmune diseases, according to a major new clinical trial.
The study published in The British Medical Journal included 25,871 people with an average age of 67. Half took 2,000 IUs of vitamin D a day. The other half took a placebo.
After five years, the vitamin D takers were 22% less likely to have developed an autoimmune condition.
Vitamin D Reduces Risk of Psoriasis, Colitis, MS, and More
Dr. Karen Costenbader of Harvard Medical School was a senior author of the study. It is the first time that a natural supplement has proven effective in preventing autoimmune illnesses, she said.
“It is exciting to have these new and positive results for nontoxic vitamins and supplements preventing potentially highly morbid diseases,” said Dr. Costenbader.
Although the study ran for five years, the data show that vitamin D started protecting against autoimmune diseases after two years, she said.
The trial also tested fish oil against autoimmune illnesses. But Dr. Costenbader and her colleagues found that it didn’t have a statistically significant effect.
More than 24 million Americans suffer from autoimmune illnesses. These are diseases in which the immune system is too active and mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues.
There are 80 known autoimmune diseases. The most common include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Type 1 diabetes
- Graves’ disease
- Celiac disease
Prior to this new study, there was some evidence that certain autoimmune diseases were related to vitamin D levels. Multiple sclerosis, for example, is more prevalent in northern latitudes where people get less sun exposure. Sunlight increases vitamin D when it hits the skin.
Autoimmune Patients Typically Have Low Vitamin D
Dr. Elizabeth Bradley of the Cleveland Clinic was not surprised by the findings. When doctors check vitamin D levels in autoimmune patients “99% of the time they are low,” she said.
Taking vitamin D supplements is a good idea for almost everyone, Dr. Bradley said. But you should get your levels checked first.
It’s a simple blood draw that can be done with your other tests at your next check-up. If your reading is less than 40 ng/mL, you need more vitamin D.
Dr. Costenbader recommends the dosage used in the trial: 2,000 IUs a day.
Be sure to take the D3 (cholecalciferol) form of the vitamin, not D2 (ergocalciferol).
Researchers have found that D3 more effectively raises blood levels of vitamin D. Since vitamin D is fat soluble, it can also help to take the supplement with food that contains some fat.
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