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Low Vitamin D Levels Linked to Poor Immune Function

Update Date: Feb 25, 2014 03:10 PM EST

Not having enough vitamin D may compromise the immune function of older individuals, according to a new study.

The latest findings reveal that older people who are vitamin D deficient also tend to have weaker immune systems.

Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, helps the body absorb calcium and develop stronger bones. The skin makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, but the vitamin can also be obtained through foods like fortified milk.

Researchers said the latest findings are important because more than 1 billion people worldwide are estimated to have vitamin D deficiency.

"Our data suggest vitamin D may be involved in maintaining the health of the immune system as well as the skeletal system," study author Mary Ward, PhD, of the University of Ulster in Coleraine, U.K., said in a news release. "This study is the first to find a connection between vitamin D levels and inflammation in a large sample of older individuals."

The latest study involved 957 Irish adults who were at least 60 years old. Researchers measured participants' vitamin D levels and their biomarkers of inflammation.

The findings revealed that people who were more vitamin D deficient were more likely to have high levels of inflammation biomarkers. Researchers said this is worrying because these biomarkers have been linked to heart disease and conditions like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

"The results indicate immune function may be compromised in older individuals with vitamin D deficiency," Ward said. "Ensuring older individuals have optimal vitamin D levels may be a way to boost immune function in this population, but this needs to be confirmed through additional studies."

The findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).

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