Vitamin D for a healthy winter

Amazingly enough, the heightened interest in the flu this year and freedom of the press have allowed the beginnings of a real debate on the value of flu vaccines and conventional flu treatment. A recent article in The Atlantic Monthly summarizes the minority opposition to the conventional wisdom: www.theatlantic.com/doc/200911/brownlee-h1n1.

Essentially, some leading influenza experts question the procedural science that has everyone rolling up their sleeve in the fall. The oft-quoted 50 percent reduction in deaths attributed to flu vaccine doesn't stand up to scrutiny. The same vaccinated folks have a 50 percent lower death rate during non-flu months as well; they're just a healthier bunch of people. The test that needs to be done, the randomized, placebo-controlled double-blind study that is medicine's gold standard has never been done for the flu shot! And belief in the golden calves (flu shots and Tamiflu) are so high that even considering such a trial scares scientists, suggesting unwarranted human experimentation.

What we are actually doing instead is the true human experimentation. We don't really know for a given set of people how their outcomes would compare, getting or not getting a flu shot. We don't really know how H1N1 will mutate if we hand out Tamiflu like candy. We don't even know if the person in front of us with a runny nose and a fever has influenza, or some other virus.

What we do know is that viral illness usually happens in winter. During the winter we also lose the sun's ability to provoke vitamin D production in our skin, and our vitamin D levels fall. The last few years have seen a glut of articles about vitamin D deficiency and its amazing correlation with almost any chronic illness you can find: cancers, arthritis, chronic pain, inflammatory bowel disease, hypertension and more. More difficult to study is acute illness and its relation to vitamin D.

A few early studies suggest a protective effect of adequate Vitamin D levels. In a recent study, patients with adequate vitamin D levels were two to five times less likely to contract an upper respiratory infection as those with low vitamin D levels. What a huge benefit!

Although it is always best to get your vitamins from food, it's hard to eat enough cold water fish to boost D levels. Our bodies actually expect to get vitamin D from the sun and not from food. I recommend people keep vitamin D levels between 50 and 90 ng/ml by sun exposure without burning and, where necessary, supplementing with vitamin D3 drops and fermented cod liver oil. Remember cod liver oil? If you are old enough, it was part of your childhood every winter as a cold preventative and provides a valuable complement to vitamin D supplementation.

There are many other components to a vigorous wellness program, and I offer this morsel on vitamin D essentially as a response to the abundant recommendations for vaccination and anti-viral medications. What you've always learned about hygiene and health will help, and may you have a healthy winter season!

Deborah Gordon, M.D., is fully trained in family practice and specializes in classic homeopathy and preventative medicine in Ashland, where she has lived for 23 years.

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