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Could vitamin D work better than influenza vaccine?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its flu message on its website on Oct 19 to promote use of influenza vaccine and get ready for the 2010-2011 flu season.  

In the meantime, some medical researchers suggest people should take high doses of vitamin D in winter to have additional protection because flu vaccine is not as effective as thought.

The CDC said right now flu activity is low, but everyone 6 months and older should get vaccinated even if they received a seasonal or 2009 H1N1 vaccine last year.

According to the agency, the influenza vaccine for 2010 to 2011 season has been updated to  include three flu viruses including H1N1, which media reports have said will not be a pandemic in the near future to say the least.

Children, pregnant women, elderly people and those whose immunity such as HIV, cancer patients has been compromised are considered at high risk for flu complications.

At flu.gov, the first message that shows up on the website is for pregnant women.  It says "Protect Yourself and Your Baby Get A flu shot."  Flu.gov also reminds consumers that other measures like washing hands need to be taken to prevent influenza. 

One important preventative measure, taking vitamin D3 to boost innate immunity against influenza, was not mentioned on both cdc.gov and flu.gov. Recent evidence is convincing that taking high doses of vitamin D can highly effectively prevent flu including H1N1 the swine flu.

Lapinsky S.E. in April, 2010 published a study in Critical Care Medicine saying that pregnant women and immunosupressed patients are at increased risk of severe A (H1N1) influenza.

To respond to Lapinsky's findings, Dr. William B. Grant, PhD, Sunlight, Nutrition, and Health Research Center (SUNARC) in San Francisco, CA and John J. Cannell, MD, The Vitamin D Council in San Luis Obispo, CA 93401 commented in the journal that the risk of influenza is linked to low serum vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D helps make antimicrobial peptides, which can prevent influenza viruses including H1N1.   The role of vitamin D in innate immunity has been known for some time now, even though many people may not have heard of it.  

Dr. Cannell said in his newsletter issued last year that two physicians, one in Wisconsin and the other in Georgia reported their observations that taking high doses of vitamin D in winter protected against H1N1 virus effectively.

According to Drs. Grant and Cannell, a Japanese trial has already demonstrated in a trial that children who took 1,200 IU per day of vitamin D3 and no additional vitamin D3 had their risk of influenza reduced by 64 percent.

One needs to know the efficacy of influenza vaccine to appreciate the protective effect of vitamin D reported in the Japanese study.  Often, the effectiveness of influenza vaccine is likely no better than what vitamin D3 can provide as shown in the  Japanese study.

High levels of serum vitamin D can help prevent other bacterial and viral infections, cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases as well as adverse pregnancy outcomes in addition to influenza and pneumonia, Dr. Grant and dr. Cannell said in their comment.

Drs. Grant and Cannell said in their comment "pregnant women should be encouraged to increase their serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels to 40 to 80 ng/mL through supplementation with several thousand international units per day of vitamin D3 or solar ultraviolet-B when the sun is high enough that one’s shadow is shorter than one’s height."

It is generally advisable that no matter a person gets influenza vaccine or not, he should make sure to maintain sufficient levels of vitamin D to protect seasonal flu and H1N1 in any flu season.  This is necessary because in most cases influenza vaccine does not work as effectively as thought.

Jimmy Downs