4 Tips for Boosting Your Immune System with Vitamin D

A couple relaxes in their beach chairs in front of a sunset
(Image credit: Beach photo via Shutterstock)

Now that Labor Day has come and gone, I think it's a good time to approach one of my favorite subjects: Vitamin D and sun exposure. Our beach days are sadly fading behind us for the year, so if you haven't yet had your fill of fun in the sun, stop what you're doing and head towards the waves, stat!

For those of you still here, let's talk about post-summer sun exposure. If you live in a warm, sunny climate, you probably get a great deal of sun throughout the year. But most of us live in areas with moderately cold to bone-chilling winters, and it's not so appealing to sunbathe in a snowstorm. What does all this have to do with vitamin D? Well, the skin makes vitamin D when it's exposed to the sun's rays. That's why people call it the sunshine vitamin.

Vitamin D has been the subject of much research. In a recent study, researchers tested the idea of using vitamin D to boost the immune system. They measured the vitamin D levels in the blood of 247 children living in an extremely cold climate. At the study's start, the average vitamin D level was 7 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml). Levels under 20 ng/ml are considered a deficiency, so these children were severely deficient.

The researchers divided the children into two groups, and gave them milk. Half received regular milk, and the other half received milk fortified with 300 international units (IU) of vitamin D. After three months, the vitamin D levels of the children who drank the fortified milk reached 19 ng/ml, on average, while the other children's levels remained unchanged, according to the study published in the journal Pediatrics in August.

Perhaps most interesting was that the children who upped their vitamin D intake had half as many colds as those who remained severely deficient. This is just one study that shows that vitamin D is a powerful immune system booster.

Here are some tips to help ensure you're getting enough of the sunshine vitamin, even when the weather gets cold.

  1. Get your vitamin D levels checked. Many doctors do this as a normal part of a physical, but if your doctor doesn't, it doesn't hurt to ask. It's a very simple blood test.
  2. Talk to your doctor about supplementation. According to the U.S. government, the recommended daily value is 400 IU, but doctors may recommend supplementing with more.
  3. If you live in a warm climate, get outside more often. If you can get vitamin D from sun exposure, that's the best way to go. Try to get 20 to 30 minutes of sun exposure each day.
  4. Eat vitamin D rich foods. Fish, cheese and fortified foods all have vitamin D in small doses. Many cereals and brands of milk are fortified with vitamin D, so this is a great option if you want to avoid taking supplements.

Healthy Bites appears on MyHealthNewsDaily on Wednesdays. Deborah Herlax Enos is a certified nutritionist and a health coach and weight loss expert in the Seattle area with more than 20 years of experience. Read more tips on her blog, Health in a Hurry!

Deborah Enos
Deborah Enos, CN, also known as "The One-Minute Wellness Coach," is The Health Coach for busy, working people. She pares her good-health messages down to simple and fast bullet points that can impact lives in 60 seconds or less. Deborah serves as a board member of the American Heart Association.  In addition to writing the Healthy Bites column for Live Science, Deborah is a regular on FOX Business News, NBC and ABC, and is a frequent contributor to The Costco Connection, Parade Magazine, Self Magazine, Good Housekeeping and USA Today. Deborah is also The One Minute Wellness Coach for The Doctors TV Show.