Vitamin D deficiency is something that largely affects the Black community, but by simply taking a vitamin D supplement your odds of developing several autoimmune diseases may decrease. Taking vitamin D supplements may help stave off psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other autoimmune diseases, a new study suggests.
Previous research has hinted at this connection, but the new study is the first randomized controlled trial to look at what happens when people are given vitamin D supplements and followed to see if they develop an autoimmune disease, the study authors said. Randomized controlled trials are considered the gold standard in clinical research.
In the new study, people who took 2,000 international units per day (IU/day) of vitamin D, with or without one gram of fish oil, for slightly more than five years reduced their risk of developing an autoimmune disease by 22% when compared to their counterparts who took placebo (“dummy”) pills.
“It looks like giving vitamin D will prevent autoimmune disease, which is really exciting,” says study author Dr. Karen Costenbader, a rheumatologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
There’s no shortage of mechanisms to explain this finding. “Vitamin D binds to receptors on immune system cells to turn on an array of genes involved in immune system function,” she adds.
Autoimmune diseases occur when your immune system engages in destructive “friendly fire” against its own body parts.
Vitamin D is called the “sunshine vitamin” because our bodies produce it when exposed to sunlight. It is hard to get as much as we need from food, so most people will need supplements. The Institute of Medicine recommends people aged 1 to 70 take 600 IU/day and that adults older than 70 aim for 800 IU/day. Other medical groups set the bar even higher.
The new study, dubbed the Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial (VITAL), included close to 26,000 adults (aged 67, on average). These folks were not vitamin D deficient and weren’t considered high risk for developing autoimmune diseases.
Participants were randomly assigned to receive either 2,000 IU/day of vitamin D with a 1 gram omega-3 fatty acid supplement; vitamin D with a placebo; omega-3 fatty acid with a placebo; or placebo alone. The participants then answered questionnaires about new diagnoses of autoimmune diseases, and doctors reviewed their records to confirm these diagnoses.
People who took vitamin D or vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids had a lower rate of autoimmune disease than people who