There are more than 160 human autoimmune diseases, everything from type one diabetes to Lou Gehrig’s disease. They arise from an improper immune response to substances and tissues normally present in the body. In other words, the body mistakes itself as foreign and attacks its own self. The common treatment of autoimmune diseases today is to suppress the immune system in general with medications.
Recently a Chinese group led by Dr. C Mok and colleagues from Tuen Mun Hospital in Hong Kong studied 290 lupus patients and confirmed previous findings that the lower your vitamin D level, the worse your lupus. The association (remember association is not causation) was quite strong. Dr. Mok also found an amazing 96% of the lupus patients were vitamin D insufficient.
Mok CC, Birmingham DJ, Leung HW, Hebert LA, Song H, Rovin BH. Vitamin D levels in Chinese patients with systemic lupus erythematosus: relationship with disease activity, vascular risk factors and atherosclerosis Rheumatology (Oxford). 2012 Apr;51(4):644-52. Epub 2011 Jun 29.
In an accompanying editorial, Professor Luis Munoz and colleagues from Erlangen University Hospital in Germany supplied a new insight into how vitamin D is involved in autoimmune disorders, and, as far as I am aware, every one of the 160 autoimmune disorders studied so far is somehow involved with vitamin D. What could the connection be, what do 160 autoimmune diseases have in common with vitamin D?
Munoz LE, Schiller M, Zhao Y, Voll RE, Schett G, Herrmann M. Do low vitamin D levels cause problems of waste removal in patients with SLE? Rheumatology (Oxford). 2012 Apr;51(4):585-7. Epub 2011 Oct 27.
Dr. Munoz points out that vitamin D (the repair and maintenance man of the human body) has a “waste removal” function mediated via the immune system. That’s right, vitamin D is also a garbage man for the human body; it stimulates the immune system to come around and collect the debris and detritus of what is left of cells that have gone through the normal process of apoptosis, or cell death.
Evidence that a similar defect links all 160 autoimmune diseases in this garbage man process is not complete but increasingly likely. To quote Professor Munoz, “Considering these robust epidemiological data, one might believe that vitamin D deficiency plays a pivotal role in the multifaceted (cause) of autoimmunity that deserves further scientific research to pinpoint the mechanisms of action of vitamin D in the phagocytosis (eating) and clearance of dying cells.”