Vitamin D Newsletter


H1N1 swine flu—vitamin D or flu shot?

Thousands of readers have written in asking the same question:

Dr. Cannell:
With H1N1 on the way, what is more important, Vitamin D or the flu shot? I'm afraid of the side-effects of the flu shot.

Dr. Cannell replies:

I don't know. I'm going to do both. The only caveat I have is that if you're going to take Vitamin D, take enough so your 25(OH)D level is between 50–80 ng/mL. I am not concerned about side-effects of the flu shot, like Guillian Barré Syndrome, because my Vitamin D level is high. When immunizations cause side effects, and they do, it is through an autoimmune phenomenon, like Guillian Barré. I believe, but cannot prove, vitamin D will prevent such immunization side effects (Perhaps prevent a significant antibody response to the flu shot, thus negating its sole purpose. I say "perhaps," because no one knows about antibody response in vitamin D sufficient people, but I think even small amounts of antibodies against H1N1 swine flu are better than none.)

Many people cite the Swine flu scare of 1976 as the reason they will not get the H1N1 vaccine. What they forget is that the epidemic never materialized so there was no way for epidemiologists to compare the incidence of Guillian Barré after H1N1 immunization with the incidence of Guillian Barré after H1N1 influenza infection. One of the most common causes of Guillian Barré is influenza itself.

Vitamin D protective against toxins

Furthermore, the world is divided between those who think we must eliminate or prevent toxic substances, whether they be influenza, mercury, lead, or arsenic and those, like me, who think that our body, if Vitamin D replete, will and have handled such insults for millions of years.

Take lead poisoning among African American children. The only good lead level is zero goes conventional wisdom. Actually, we know a lot about lead poisoning in vitamin D deficient children; we know next to nothing about lead poisoning in Vitamin D sufficient children. For example, at first blush it is concerning that black children have higher lead levels (more lead poisoning) in the summer than the winter. Furthermore, the higher the summertime Vitamin D level, the worse the lead poisoning. Yes, higher Vitamin D levels are associated with worse lead poisoning!

Kemp FW, Neti PV, Howell RW, Wenger P, Louria DB, Bogden JD. Elevated blood lead concentrations and vitamin D deficiency in winter and summer in young urban children. Environ Health Perspect. 2007 Apr;115(4):630–5.

What is really happening? Ask Dr. Alan Kalueff at the NIH.

Kalueff AV, Tuohimaa P. Neurosteroid hormone vitamin D and its utility in clinical nutrition. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2007 Jan;10(1):12–9.

As Dr. Kalueff explains in the above paper, Vitamin D is simply exercising one of its many neuroprotective roles, by initiating the mobilization of excess heavy metals in the body, probably through a glutathione mechanism, and delivering the lead to the systemic circulation for execration in the bile. That is, the association of higher Vitamin D levels with higher blood lead levels simply reflects Vitamin D's efforts to excrete lead. Of course the black children with lead poisoning never get high enough summertime Vitamin D levels to excrete much of the lead because the next fall and winter their Vitamin D levels disappear. I predict that Vitamin D will do more to solve the problem of lead toxicity than all of prevention, except in cases where the lead burden overwhelms D's defenses.

Vitamin D upregulates antiviral peptides

For decades, scientists have known that hundreds of human genes exist to help the body fight infection, toxins, cancer, etc. What was not known, but is becoming increasingly known, is what upregulates, or increases, the expression of these prevention and protection genes. As many readers will find this winter, Vitamin D's upregulation of the naturally occurring antiviral peptide, cathelicidin, will keep many of us well this winter while H1N1 swine flu injures or kills the vitamin D deficient.

Page last edited: 28 August 2011