By Dr. Sharon Stills, NMD
If you’re taking a Vitamin D supplement this winter to boost your immune system, you’re on the right track. However, to help your body activate Vitamin D’s benefits, you probably want to add a probiotic to your regimen.
Here’s why. According to a new study, healthy gut bacteria appears to play a role in converting inactive vitamin D into its active, health-promoting form. While studying Vitamin D levels in a group of older men, researchers at the University of California, San Diego noted that participants with healthier and more diverse gut microbiomes also had higher levels of active Vitamin D.
So why not just take some Vitamin D and forget about it? It turns out that the way our bodies use Vitamin D is a big variable — and it’s connected to good gut flora.
The biology is pretty interesting. It starts with the difference between inactive and active Vitamin D. If you’ve ever had your Vitamin D levels checked, what was actually tested was your blood serum level of Calcifediol (25-hydroxy vitamin D3), the inactive precursor to active Vitamin D. This inactive compound — 25(OH)D3 — is used to monitor vitamin D status in individuals simply because it’s easier to measure than active Vitamin D.
Knowing your level of inactive Vitamin D is helpful, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. As researchers now speculate, how well the body metabolizes Vitamin D into its active form could be even more important than how much of it is stored.
If you’re supplementing with Vitamin D, you want to make sure that your body will be able to activate and use the vitamin when it matters most.
Could taking a probiotic be part of bolstering active Vitamin D levels? While UC San Diego researchers stress that they were unable to confirm whether these bacteria cause the conversion of the vitamin to its active form, we do know that healthy microbiome diversity is thought to be associated with better health in general. The lining of the gut is also where 75% of our immune cells reside, making it so important that we supplement and feed good bacteria in our GI tract.
Reading through recent Pub-Med abstracts on Vitamin D reminded me of just how powerful this vitamin is for immune support. Vitamin D reduces the risk of respiratory infection and is a great immune system modulator, meaning that it enhances immune response. Vitamin D has also emerged as a key nutrient for helping to reduce the risk for severe symptoms of Covid-19.
Does it surprise me that Vitamin D activation may be part of some sort of nexus in the gut, right where so much of our immune system happens to reside? Not at all. When we say that good health starts in the gut, we mean it! The workings of the microbiome may still be mysterious, but it’s clear that your friendly gut bugs play a key part in supporting so many functions in the body.
So, while we wait for more research on this fascinating topic, I’ll be over here taking my Vitamin D with a high quality probiotic.