Dr. Denise Johnson, my pediatrician, recently diagnosed me with a moderate allergy to tree nuts, such as almonds, cashews, pecans and walnuts. I had already been diagnosed with environmental allergies—pollen, grasses, oak, and ragweed. My blood work also revealed that my vitamin D levels were low. Since I am African-American, it is harder for me to get vitamin D naturally from the sun. I also rarely eat vitamin D rich foods, such as eggs, fish and spinach.

Some people taking vitamin D tablets are experiencing an extra benefit–they suffer less from their allergies. Credit: Briana Windon.

My doctor advised me to daily take vitamin D tablets (400 IU's). Since taking them, I have noticed a decrease in my allergy symptoms. New research is uncovering the importance of vitamin D in protecting against a wide range of health problems such as allergies.

“Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins, because it helps the body absorb calcium,” says Patricia Hundelt, an Anatomy and Physiology teacher at Hazelwood East High School in Hazelwood, MO. “Calcium builds strong bones and your bones provide the framework of your body.”

Hundelt adds that vitamin D is a fat-soluble (dissolves and stored in body fat) vitamin. It is created by the body as a response to the UV rays in sunlight. It is also the only vitamin that doubles as a hormone. After vitamin D is produced by the skin or eaten, the liver and kidneys help convert it to an active hormone called calcitriol. Once converted it aids your body in calcium absorption.

Vitamin D is also found naturally, in small amounts, in a few foods—fish, fish oils, egg yolks, mushrooms, and spinach—and in fortified dairy and grain products, says WebMD. The best way to get vitamin D is through direct sunlight exposure.

However, the sun is not a reliable source for everyone. The season, time of day, geographic location, level of air pollution, weight, skin tone, and age, all affect your skin's ability to produce vitamin D. Some individuals who avoid the sun, live in places where the climate is colder, or have milk allergies (there is a great deal of vitamin D added to milk now because of a previous rickets epidemic in children in the early 1900’s) may develop a vitamin D deficiency. People with dark skin tones also have a higher risk of developing this deficiency, because of the greater amount of melanin in their skin limits the amount of UV light allowed into the skin, which is needed to create vitamin D.

According to Ms. Mary Jo Ruther, a biology teacher at Hazelwood East High School, “Vitamin D deficiency can cause a great deal of medical problems and occur in all people regardless of race, age, or weight.” Vitamin D deficiency was once only thought to cause rickets, a disease caused by improper mineralization of bone tissue, which causes soft bones and skeletal deformities.

Researchers, graduate students, and staff at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York studied the overall effects of vitamin D on the body, including the relationship between low vitamin D levels and allergies.  The participants of the study included children, adolescents and adults. The control group received a daily dose of vitamin D of 600 IU’s.  The other participants received nothing. Each participant underwent blood testing. The blood work was sent to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which is a program that assesses the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States.

NHANES performed 17 different allergens tests, including environmental allergens (ragweed, oak, dog, and cockroach) and food allergens (tree nuts and granola).

Surprisingly, more than half of the children in the experimental group had 11 out of the 17 allergens. The researchers determined that children with low vitamin D levels were twice as likely to develop allergies as children with normal vitamin D levels, which they reported in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in 2011.

Related story: The Importance of Epipens

Michal Melamed, M.D., M.H.S., the lead researcher of this study, says “The research only shows an association and does not prove that vitamin D deficiency causes allergies in children.” More research is to be conducted, but the researchers believe that low vitamin D levels are linked to allergies in children. Briana Windon

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