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I recently saw a news article in which vitamin D was suggested for preventing Swine Flu.

Q:I recently saw a news article in which vitamin D was suggested for preventing Swine Flu. Is there any basis for this idea? Should I use vitamin D instead of getting a flu shot?

A:There is a lot of excitement in the medical world about vitamin D as a preventative — or even as a treatment! — for a wide variety of problems, including infectious diseases such as influenza and colds. The basic idea is as follows: Vitamin D is essential for certain parts of the immune system to function properly. The body gets much of its vitamin D from the action of sunlight on the skin. During the fall and winter, most people get too little sunlight exposure and become deficient in vitamin D. Their immunity to flu and colds therefore declines, making them susceptible to flu infections. This is why flu epidemics tend to occur during these months.

Epidemiologists have long noticed that flu epidemics don’t follow the patterns expected of a disease that is transmitted simply by the infecting of people who are well by people who are sick (i.e., by people who are coughing, sniffling, and spewing virus-laden fluids). For example, it has been noticed that in the tropics there is no special “flu season”, whereas in temperate regions epidemics occur mainly in the fall and winter. And there are other ways in which actual flu epidemics don’t match their expected behavior.1

Various explanations have been proposed for these discrepancies.1 The explanation that appears to make the most sense is the one mentioned above involving vitamin D deficiencies. This explanation accounts for many of features of real epidemics. For example, vitamin D deficiencies are more severe during the fall and winter in temperate regions, but in tropical regions people get good sun exposure all year round, and therefore have no seasonal deficiency.

How much vitamin D should one take to protect against the flu? Very little research has been done to find out, but experts have made some pretty good guesses from the existing data:

  • For prevention, at least 5000 i.u. of vitamin D3 per day.2
  • To treat an existing flu infection in an adult, 140,000 i.u. of vitamin D3 per day for 7 days.2

Long-term use of more than 40,000 i.u. per day is unwise because in some people these dosages may cause excess calcium build-up in the body (‘hypercalcemia’).3

I myself use 25,000 i.u. per day. I often miss a day, but this is no problem because the body stores this vitamin long enough to even out the peaks and valleys in the dosing schedule. I use LifeLink’s high-potency vitamin D3 product: D3ZO. (I helped to design the formulation, so I trust this product more than I do any of the other D3 brands.)

I definitely don’t recommend that vitamin D be substituted for a flu vaccination. They work by different mechanisms and should be seen as complementary preventions. One is a back-up for the other. Flu vaccinations can easily fail to provide adequate protection against fast-mutating flu strains such as Swine Flu or Bird Flu. When these flu strains suddenly become resistant to the current vaccine, there is no time to reformulate the vaccine before a major epidemic occurs. In this case, those who have been taking high-dose vitamin D can have an advantage over everyone else. I always get a flu shot each year, and now I have the extra confidence that comes from having vitamin D protection as well.

For more information on this vitamin, such as its use to prevent cancer and osteoporosis, see LifeLink’s monographs for D3ZO and for Formula CS Plus.

References


Disclaimer: The information provided in this “Ask Dr. Zarkov” article contains no medical advice whatsoever — it contains biological information. Nothing in the article constitutes an effort to persuade readers to use, or not to use, this biological information as a basis for action.


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