Autoimmune diseases cause the body’s own immune responses to be directed against itself, resulting in inflammation and the destruction of tissue.
A healthy immune system has a variety of functions directed toward recognizing and repelling or destroying any health-damaging agents not normally present in the body.
On the other hand, a malfunctioning immune system causes damage throughout the body by directing antibodies against its own tissues.
The immune system depends on a balance of “effector” cells and “regulatory” cells. Effector cells are responsible for the destruction of tissue, while regulatory cells protect tissue from damage.
Sufferers of autoimmune diseases have an over-abundance of effector cells and it is this abundance that encourages the immune system to attack the body.
Autoimmune disorders include, but are not limited to, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, and lupus.
Rheumatoid arthritis is also classified as an autoimmune disease, since it causes immune-responsive cells to attack the linings of the joints.
Autoimmune disorders are also related to type 1 or insulin-dependent diabetes by causing antibodies to attack the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas.
Some people also consider celiac disease to be an autoimmune disorder due to its generation of antibodies to attack cells which are part of the structure of muscle tissue.
Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin
Vitamin D is implicated in all autoimmune diseases due to its role in regulating and helping to control the immune system.
It does this by affecting the manner in which the immune system exhibits tolerance toward the body’s tissues.
Vitamin D is involved in the balance of effector cells versus regulatory cells in the immune system.
A lack of vitamin D also causes the regulatory cells to not only be scarce but weak and to malfunction.
In addition, some of the body’s vitamin D is converted into a hormone called calcitriol. This hormone turns on an antibacterial protein as a first-line defense against all unrecognized invaders.
It is also important in preventing an overreaction to harmless visitors or the body’s own cells.
The most well known source of vitamin D is sunlight, which is where the nickname for the vitamin come from.
Nonetheless, it is also contained in some foods, it is generally available in milk and can also be easily purchased as a dietary supplement.
The immune system is directly impacted by levels of vitamin D in your system.
In higher latitudes it can be difficult to get enough exposure to sunlight and therefore generate sufficient levels of vitamin D.
People living in higher latitudes often experience higher rates of type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases.
Low levels of the vitamin have also been implicated in the development of a variety of other diseases, including multiple sclerosis, various forms of cancer, and hypertension.
Lupus and vitamin D
It has been shown that levels of vitamin D and lupus are connected. Low levels of the vitamin are more likely to have the disease, and more serious cases of lupus are more likely to correspond with low levels of the vitamin.
Ironically, lupus sufferers are sensitive to the sun, and so they need to avoid too much sunlight or wear heavy sunscreen to block out the sunlight that would help increase vitamin D levels.
Not only do low levels of the vitamin contribute to more regular flare ups, but it is also implicated in the development of the disease in the first place.
So not only is vitamin D supplementation helpful for managing symptoms, it is also important as a preventative measures.
Crohn’s disease and vitamin D
It has also been found that vitamin D can help counter the effects of Crohn’s disease.
Also, like lupus, it is possible that sufficient vitamin D in the system can help prevent the disease from developing in the first place.
This is related to a specific disorder where specific genes in the intestinal tract. Both Beta-defensin and NOD2 have been linked to Crohn’s disease. Both are impacted by vitamin D levels in the body.
The condition that affects these genes often has a genetic component, and so siblings of Crohn’s patients are encouraged to begin using a vitamin D supplement.
This is incredibly easy to do, particularly since it can prevent the development of a serious disease.
There are various relatively inexpensive over-the-counter supplements that can easily be taken to improve vitamin D levels.
Rheumatoid arthritis and vitamin D
Vitamin D also plays a major role in joint health, and low levels of the vitamin also increase the risk of rheumatologic conditions such as arthritis.
Several studies have found low blood levels of vitamin D in patients with osteoarthritis of the hip and knee.
In another study of more than 2,000 people, researchers found that vitamin D deficiency was strongly associated with disabling symptoms among those with rheumatoid arthritis.
Like lupus, the debilitating effects of arthritis can make is difficult for sufferers to get exposure to the sun and higher levels of vitamin D.
In the United States, studies have also suggested that women who live in the northern states, and hence tend to get less daily sun exposure, may be at higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis compared with women living at more southern latitudes.
This is then of even more concern to Canadians and other people who live in higher latitudes.
Celiac disease and vitamin D
Many people recently diagnosed with celiac disease find they are deficient in vitamin D, a critical nutrient for both bone health and overall immune system strength.
But vitamin D deficiency in celiacs isn’t limited to the recently diagnosed – it seems to be common in adults and children who have been diagnosed for a while and who comply strictly with the gluten-free diet.
Although it’s also common in the general population, it is even more common in people with celiac disease, occurring in most men and women patients. In fact, as in other autoimmune disorders, it is a very common problem amongst celiacs.
Vitamin D is an important nutrient, and helps the body not only with autoimmune diseases, but other conditions as well.
While it is important to always consult with a doctor before supplementing, it is worth to explore options around increasing your vitamin D levels.