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The Sunshine Vitamin May Protect Against Winter Viruses

Levels of vitamin D tend to decrease during autumn and winter because the days are shorter and sunlight is relatively weak. Low levels can have a negative impact on the immune system. According to a recent study, supplementation with vitamin D could help protect against viral infections in the winter.

Researchers from the Universidad de Cantabria in Spain particularly focused on the effect of supplementation on older populations. As we age, it becomes harder and harder to process the vitamin D produced by the skin in response to exposure to natural sunlight, further weakening the immune system.

The study was published online ahead of print in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology on February 17, 2012.

The researchers examined blood levels of vitamin D in three different groups of healthy participants. The first group ranged in age from 20 to 30, the second from 31 to 59, and the third from 60 to 86. They discovered that vitamin D levels lowered with age progression.

This discovery led them to look at levels of immune markers in the older groups. They found that function of the toll-like receptor TLR7 was most affected by vitamin D deficiency. This receptor regulates the immune response to viruses, leading the researchers to believe that vitamin D deficiency could be linked to higher risk for contracting viruses.

Previous research has linked vitamin D with a vast number of health benefits, including reducing the risk of skin cancer and osteoporosis, improving cardiovascular health, combating diabetes, and improving age related eye degeneration.

Dietary vitamin D can be found in milk, fortified cereals, fish, and eggs. A high quality vitamin D supplement is always a good option if you feel that you’re not getting enough through diet and sun.

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