Here comes the Sun!

14 May 2020
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The Sun is shining and it boosts more than just your mental health

Today the Daily Telegraph reported on the benefits of Vitamin D:
“Vitamin D helps us feel happy, healthy – and, crucially, could protect us from respiratory problems”
The benefits of getting out in the sunshine is no secret. Anyone who lives in cooler climes as we do in the UK will relish even the thought of lifting your face to the sun, feeling the gentle touch of warm rays spreading over your cheeks and jaw muscles, you’ll feel any worries or thoughts melt away if only for a few blissful moments as you close your eyes and simply bask in it’s delicious embrace….
Most people enjoy being out in nature in some capacity, whether it’s for a short walk in a park, a run through the woods, sitting in a garden or cycling in the open space of the countryside. We need to see the sunlight and it even forms part of our immune building system…
Vitamin D forms in our skin in response to sunlight
It’s readily made simply by enjoying the sunshine (although of course a word of caution: care should be taken to avoid burning or over-exposure which could lead to skin damage), and it’s also found in foods such as oily fish, eggs, fortified margarines, some breakfast cereals and those vitamin supplements.
But what is it and what does it do for us? Vitamin D helps to maintain a healthy body.  It’s a critical fat-soluble vitamin that’s needed to maintain serum calcium, which supports cellular processes, neuro-muscular function and bone ossification – essentially it supports healthy bones and teeth, and the proper functioning of your nerves, muscles, and heart.
Vitamin D also ‘triggers and arms’ the immune system, playing a key role in boosting the immune system.
In a study carried out by the University of Copenhagen and Bispebjerg Hospital in Denmark, Dr Marina Rode von Essen and colleagues looked at human T cells in the laboratory, and found that vitamin D was part of a complex process in which the cells become ‘primed’ and help to fight infection. While these findings suggest that people with vitamin D deficiency are more susceptible to infection or that vitamin D supplements might boost immunity, such theories need to be tested further before drawing any firm conclusions, the paper was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Immunology.
What did the study involve?
T cells are a type of white blood cell that is of key importance to the immune system and is at the core of adaptive immunity, the system that tailors the body’s immune response to specific pathogens. This research investigated what happens to human T cells when they respond to foreign molecules (antigens).
In essence, T cells recognise antigens (for example molecules on the surfaces of viruses) and kill infected cells. In particular, the researchers looked at the ‘priming’ of the T cells, a process by which T cells prepare to respond to antigens. When exposed to an antigen, primed T cells are able to multiply in number faster and produce more chemicals to help promote further immune response. They also looked at how vitamin D and the vitamin D receptor are involved in this process, and the role of a protein called phospholipase C, which is involved in sending signals within cells.
A better understanding of how the immune system works could suggest ways of boosting immune responses.
What did the research involve?
The researchers took ‘naive’ (unprimed by exposure to antigens) human T cells from freshly drawn blood and grew them in the laboratory. They grew some in solutions containing immune system molecules: conditions that ‘primed’ them for activation. The characteristics and behaviour of the ‘primed’ T cells and the ‘naive’ T cells were compared. This included the cells’ response to being ‘restimulated’ through re-exposure to the immune system molecules that originally primed their activation.
The researchers were especially interested in how much the cells produced a particular form of phospholipase C, and how this was linked to the presence of the vitamin D receptor, and they looked at what happened if they blocked the cells from responding to vitamin D. They carried out experiments to investigate how the cells switched on the production of the vitamin D receptor.
And the results?
The study found that ‘naive’ T cells (un-primed) produced only a small amount of protein. However, following priming, the T cells began to produce far more protein, but for this to occur, the T cells needed to be in the presence of vitamin D and the vitamin D receptor.
They also found that naive T cells did not produce the vitamin D receptors, and that these receptors were only produced when the T cells were primed. They concluded that T cells produce vitamin D receptors when they are primed to respond to antigens. Vitamin D then acts via the receptor to stimulate production of the protein. These changes are necessary for the T cells to be activated.
This research indicates that vitamin D is involved in the activation of the T cells of the immune system. Whilst this is a laboratory study, it is useful in helping to understand what happens in specific immune system cells when exposed to foreign entities such as bacteria or viruses. It does not tell us how variations in vitamin D levels might affect people’s susceptibility to infection, or what the ideal level of vitamin D is for supporting immune system responses to infection.
Other studies will no doubt look into these questions, however, as with other vitamins, it is clearly important to have sufficient vitamin D to maintain a healthy body. 
Vitamin D deficiency is incredibly common and most people are unaware of it, because the symptoms are often subtle and non-specific, meaning that it’s hard to know if they’re caused by low vitamin D levels or something else.
Here are 8 common signs for vitamin D deficiency:
Getting sick or infected often
Fatigue and tiredness
Bone and back pain
Impaired wound healing
Bone loss
Hair loss
Muscle pain
If you think you may have a deficiency, it’s important that you speak to your doctor and get your blood levels measured – fortunately a vitamin D deficiency is usually easy to fix. You can either increase your sun exposure, eat more vitamin-D-rich foods, such as fatty fish or fortified dairy products or get vitamin D supplements.
Fixing a deficiency is simple, easy and can have big benefits for your health.
And if you get the chance to enjoy some of the sunshine at the moment, seize it! It’s not an indulgence but a necessity to help top up those levels of vitamin D, which will help keep your immune system in tip-top shape  – something we could all do with, especially at the moment.
If you’d like help in supporting your immune system through stress management, reducing anxiety, or looking at lifestyle behaviours during lockdown, we have an online course available. Here’s a quick peak
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