Low level of ‘sunshine vitamin’ causes inflammation with age

25 Jul 2023

Image: © RNetfalls/Stock.adobe.com

Vitamin D is an essential compound in the human body. And now scientists based in Trinity and Limerick have found that it can help with age-related inflammation.

A team of ageing experts in Ireland have found a correlation between vitamin D and inflammation levels in people above 50, yet another sign that the ‘sunshine vitamin’ is crucial for the overall health of older adults.

Researchers based in Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and University of Limerick (UL) published a study recently that has found a correlation between a vitamin D deficiency and high levels of C-reactive protein, or CRP, in the blood – which is a measure of inflammation in the body.

The team’s findings held strong even after adjusting for other factors, such as physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption, obesity, educational level, kidney function and biological sex. The study was published in the journal Plos One.

High levels of CRP indicate the presence of infection while lower levels that are still higher than normal can indicate what the team calls “low-grade inflammation”.

This type of constant inflammation is common among older adults and can lead to a slow accumulation of damage, increasing the risk factor for many of the chronic diseases of ageing including cardiovascular disease, mental health decline and diabetes, among others.

Lead author Dr Eamon Laird said that the study is important because of the high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and chronic disease in older adults living in Ireland.

“Our findings along with previous trials in this area suggest that optimising vitamin D status to above deficient levels could help to benefit the inflammation pathway in community dwelling older adults,” Laird said.

According to him, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland recently changed the vitamin D intake guidelines for older adults to 15ug per day (one ug is one-millionth of a gram).

“Our findings should provide further reassurance for policy makers to show that maintaining a sufficient vitamin D status is actually linked with lower levels of inflammation and did not increase the risk,” he went on.

“Remember vitamin D is one component: in order to have the lowest risk of inflammation people should think about vitamin D in combination with regular physical activity, healthy lifestyle, adequate sleep and social interactions.”

Previous work from Laird and Prof Rose Anne Kenny has suggested that taking vitamin D supplements may help boost resistance to respiratory infections, such as those caused by Covid-19.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic