Recently, much has been said about how vulnerable Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) communities are to the Coronavirus.  Certainly, the work many of us do puts us at increased risk of coming into contact with the virus. One of the topics rarely discussed is the important role of Vitamin D dose for dark skin in protecting against the influenza virus.

 We can’t all work safely from the comfort of our homes in front of a computer screen! There has been a huge amount of coverage on the search for a vaccine and many hopes are pinned upon developing such a cure as quickly as possible. On the other hand, there has been a disappointing lack of information about what we can do for ourselves. What proactive steps we can take to protect our health and increase our resilience? This is especially relevant for dark-skinned people living in regions (where for most of the year) there just isn’t much sunshine. 

So, how much Vitamin D for dark skin is needed?

Vitamin D Dosage

Our darker skin requires more sun exposure than the general recommendations for fair skin. If you have fair (white) skin then sunbathing for 20 minutes or so is adequate.  However, at the opposite end of the spectrum very dark African skin can take approximately 3 hours to absorb a similar amount of Vitamin D.  I’m guessing I’d need about 90 minutes.  

Shortly after the 1918 influenza pandemic, Vitamin D was discovered. It was known that a small amount prevented rickets.   However, we now know that we require much larger amounts to reap the full benefits.

Vitamin D Benefits

Vitamin D has numerous benefits rather than just bone development and preventing rickets in children. Nearly every cell in our body has Vitamin D receptors.  With regard to influenza, it has been proven that severe life-threatening influenza is a Vitamin D deficiency disease.  Severe influenza or death from influenza will not likely occur in someone with optimal blood levels of Vitamin D.  

Vitamin D improves resistance to influenza

As we breathe, inhaled viruses, bacteria and mould come into contact with the surface of our respiratory tract.  Therefore the surface of our tract is better protected than the deeper layers.

The immune cells in our respiratory tract have Vitamin D receptors.  When enough Vitamin D is present in our blood it will bind to these receptors.  This union between Vitamin D and its corresponding receptor produces immunocompetent peptides [IP]. IPs mount a response against invading pathogens. Therefore, if your Vitamin D level is too low, your respiratory immunity will also be low. This affects your susceptibility to colds, ‘flu, tuberculosis and other respiratory infections.

One hundred years ago, it was common practice to prescribe sunbathing for TB (tuberculosis) patients.  They would be wheeled out in their beds into the sunshine. The  sun exposure raised Vitamin D levels, resisting the infection.

Vitamin D levels below 15 ng/ml can give rise to recurrent and very severe respiratory infections.  Between January and March, Vitamin D levels tend to fall below 15 ng/mL.  This represents the seasonality of influenza. 

Vitamin D & the cytokine storm

As we all know, influenza can and does kill.  Death can occur from a cytokine storm, which is an over-reaction of the immune system.  First, inflammation occurs as a result of the respiratory tract becoming infected. At low levels, inflammation is beneficial as the swelling prevents the spread of infection.

This inflammatory response is more likely to be exaggerated if you are Vitamin D deficient. This excessive inflammation is called a cytokine storm. Immune cells attack and destroy the lining of the epithelial tract causing suffocation.   It is now known that Vitamin D not only activates the immune cells in the respiratory tract, but also activates components of the immune system, preventing a cytokine storm.

If you want to know more about your immune system Read this article!

How much Vitamin D dosage do we need?

Influenza is a Winter epidemic, beginning around November, peaking in late January to March.   Vitamin D researchers have made the connection. This exactly coincides with the lowest Vitamin D levels of the population.

The sun emits ultraviolet light – UVA and UVB radiation.  UVB radiation manufactures Vitamin D in the cholesterol under your skin, but only when the sun is higher than 45° in the sky.  So, how do you know if you are making Vitamin D? A really useful tip is this: look down at your shadow cast by the sun.  Is your shadow shorter than you are tall?  If yes, then you are making Vitamin D.  Vitamin D is fat-soluble and is manufactured in your cholesterol.  If your shadow is longer than you are tall, even though it may be sunny,  you are not making any Vitamin D.  

Measurements of Vitamin D blood levels are either in ng/mL or nmol/L. I will be using ng/mL in this article.  An optimal level is 60-80 ng/mL. You may find it helpful to get a vitamin D blood test, known as 25(OH)D, or 25-hydroxyvitamin D.  This will tell you  exactly what your Vitamin D levels are. It is a simple matter to test your levels by taking a finger-prick sample of blood. This can be sent to a laboratory,  Alternatively, you could ask your GP to test you.

At even twice the normal range (150 ng/mL) no toxicity has been discovered. You would have to be getting above 200 ng/ml to be running any risk of toxicity. It is very rare to get even close to these levels.

It may be necessary to supplement your Vitamin D intake if you are in a climate that is without sun for many months of the year.  You can buy a Vitamin D3 supplement and use enough of a dose of it to get the result you need.

Are you getting enough Vitamin D?

If you live in northern latitudes you are more likely to be deficient in Vitamin D.  This deficiency is even more pronounced for people with darker skin.  A study found that using supplements to correct for very low Vitamin D levels led to 70% less viral and bacterial respiratory tract infections.

Although most of our Vitamin D comes from sunlight, we also receive some from our food.  Dietary sources include oily fish and liver.  Vegetarian sources of Vitamin D are wild mushrooms (the only plant able to produce its own Vitamin D when exposed to UV light). Egg yolks, certain foods fortified with Vitamin D, tofu, yoghurt and plant milks, i.e. hemp, oat, almond and certain cereals are also good sources.

Although melanin protects darker skin from sunburn, dark skin produces Vitamin D slowly. Lighter skin produces less melanin, which means it  burns more easily, but is quicker at producing Vitamin D.

It is more difficult for dark skin to absorb Vitamin D from sunlight

Darker skin protects from sunburn, but produces Vitamin D more slowly.

Vitamin D deficiency symptoms

Bone metabolism is disrupted when Vitamin D levels fall below 32 ng/mL.  At this level, calcium is poorly absorbed from food. With a blood level of less than 15 ng/mL, some babies will start to develop rickets.  This is a weakening, softening and distortion of the bones typically resulting in bow legs and stunted growth.  At this level adults can develop osteomalacia.  Vitamin D deficiency symptoms include fatigue, muscle pain and weakness and aching bones. Osteomalacia is often misdiagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome in those living in cloudy areas lacking sunshine.

Vitamin D deficiency and breast cancer

A study assessed the risk of breast cancer in women. The participants either had more than or less than 50 ng/mL serum Vitamin D.  The risk of cancer was halved where the levels were above 50 ng/mL.  Below that level the risks increased.

How much Vitamin D3 should I take daily?

Expert recommendations for the daily dosing of Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol, from animal-based sources)  have varied over the years. ranging from 2,000 up to 10,000 i.u. daily.   4,000 iu per day on most days should be adequate, especially if you are frequently out in the sun.  You will probably need to take up to 10,000 iu daily (in 2 or 3 high-dose capsules or tablets) throughout the Winter to eliminate the risk of respiratory infections.  However, the true  marker of your optimal level of Vitamin D is a serum blood test.  As mentioned before, aim for 70-80 ng/mL.

How to increase Vitamin D levels quickly

As a holistic health practitioner  and a Londoner who frequently uses public transport, I am always actively aiming to build and maintain a robust immune system.  I would advise you to do the same, especially before the Winter months arrive, when immunity is typically at its most vulnerable.

I think it is always best to begin fortifying your immunity a few months before flu season arrives.  Let me be clear that this is not just protection for the flu, whether it be COVID-19 or any other flu season.  It is protection from every onslaught that our immune system faces on a daily basis.

To stimulate your immunity very quickly, experts have recommended high daily doses of Vitamin D.  For every kilogram of body weight between 1,000 to 2,000 i.u. Vitamin D can be taken daily to quickly raise levels of Vitamin D in those seriously deficient or exposed to flu.

So, for example, a person weighing:

110 lb / 50 kg = take up to 100,000 i .u. daily (short-term)

220 lb / 100 kg  = take up to 20,000 i.u. daily (short term)

I really hope you find this information useful.  It  was a revelation to me and I’ve used this knowledge to make some profound changes in the way I improve my health.  It is my hope that you can do the same.

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