Life Extension Magazine®
Immune function cell being supplemented and boosted through vitamin d3 and omea-3

Impact of Vitamin D on Autoimmune Risk

A major clinical trial showed that supplementing with vitamin D3 and omega-3 reduced incidence of autoimmune disease by 25%-30%.

Scientifically reviewed by: Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, in May 2022. Written by: William Faloon.

William Faloon
William Faloon

Autoimmunity occurs when the immune system mistakenly targets healthy body tissues.

These misdirected immune attacks result in damage to normal tissues.

Autoimmune disorders are one of the largest classes of illnesses in the United States.

Diseases with a known or suspected autoimmune component include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Type I diabetes
  • Lupus
  • Psoriasis
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • Raynaud’s
  • Vasculitis
  • Grave’s disease
Man holding vitamin d supplement up to sun that can be used to boost immunity

A recent study found that the prevalence of a common biomarker of autoimmunity is increasing in the United States.1

Treatments for autoimmune disorders vary and often focus on reducing immune activity.2

A side effect of immune suppression is increased risk of certain cancers, along with higher risk of bacterial, fungal, and viral infections.3

A landmark placebo-controlled prevention trial studied a large group of people for over five years.4

The findings indicate that most readers of Life Extension® Magazine are reducing their auto-immune disease risk by 25%-30%.

This article describes an increase in autoimmune prevalence and what can be done to reduce this risk.

Autoimmunity occurs when the immune system produces antibodies that attack the body’s own tissues.

A common method to screen for potential auto-immunity is the antinuclear antibody blood test or “ANA” for short.

Blood vial with label reading ‘autoimmune test’ for an antinuclear antibody test

In a study published in June 2020, researchers found that the prevalence of positive antinuclear antibody (ANA) tests is increasing in the United States.1

Groups with the greatest increase in this biomarker of autoimmune disease include males, non-Hispanic whites, adults 50 years and older, and adolescents.

This study was the first to evaluate ANA changes over time in a large representative sampling of the American population.5

The study evaluated over 14,000 people enrolled in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

The following increases in ANA (antinuclear anti-bodies) prevalence were found:

Period

ANA Prevalence

1988-1991

11.0%

1999-2004

11.5%

2011-2012

15.9%

The percentages for the 2011-2012 period correspond to an approximate 41 million individuals who may be afflicted by quality-of-life-robbing auto-immune disorders that shorten overall longevity.

The scientists conducting this analysis state that the observed ANA increases were not explained by current trends in weight, alcohol, or smoking exposure.

The findings are concerning because they suggest troubling potential increases in future autoimmune disease cases.

First Comprehensive List of Autoimmune Diseases

Lab technician holding laptop accessing the Autoimmune registry to find listed diseases

In November 2020, a nonprofit group called the Autoimmune Registry published a comprehensive list of over 150 autoimmune diseases along with links to published literature and information about possible treatment options.6

This group states that between 15-30 million people in the United States suffer from an autoimmune disorder.

The Autoimmune Registry emphasizes how autoimmune diseases can affect every part of the human body–including skin, blood vessels, nerves, and immune and digestive systems.

Their list includes well-known diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, and type I diabetes.

Dozens of rarer diseases like hemolytic anemia, myasthenia gravis, cytopenia, and vasculitis are also listed.

Human Autoimmune Study

Researcher holding beaker of vitamin D for use in double-blind, placebo-controlled human study

In November 2021, findings from a follow-up analysis from a major clinical trial were published.4

In this study, subjects were randomized to receive daily vitamin D and fish oil or placebo for five years.7

This nationwide, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial enrolled men at least 50 years of age and women at least 55.

Compared to the placebo group, those given vitamin D3 and omega-3 supplements had a 25%-30% reduced incidence of autoimmune disease.4

Impressive Study Size and Design

This November 2021 published study is not the first to indicate protection against autoimmune disorders with vitamin D or omega-3s.4

Vitamin D has been associated with reduced risk of several autoimmune diseases in some observational studies, but a large, randomized, controlled trial has been lacking.8-10

Smaller clinical trials with dietary fish oil omega-3 fatty acids have suggested that supplementation may help decrease the abnormal immune activation against otherwise healthy cells and tissues observed in autoimmunity.11-13

No prior rigorous studies (i.e., large, randomized controlled trials), however, tested whether supplementation lowers risk of developing autoimmune disease.

This recent study tested vitamin D3 and omega-3 supplements versus placebo for prevention of autoimmune diseases in 25,871 Americans for a median of over five years.

The daily supplemental dose was 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 and 1,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids.

Impact of Longer-Term Vitamin D Supplementation

Physician holding notecard that says 'vitamin d + omega-3'

In this study showing a 25%-30% reduction in autoimmune disease risk, the effect of vitamin D3 appeared to strengthen after two years of supplementation.4

When the first two years of supplementation were excluded, the vitamin D3 group had a nearly 40% reduced autoimmune risk at a median of 5.3 years.

This is an important finding that confirms, for autoimmune disease, what has previously been observed—including in results from this same study cohort—for cancer. The effects of vitamin D on reducing cancer incidence and mortality become evident, or more pronounced, after continuous supplementation for one or two years or more.14-16

One reason for this is that some people in these studies have preexisting cancers that are only formally diagnosed one to two years after the study starts. When longer term data are analyzed, improved protective effects can be demonstrated.

Be it nutrient supplementation or controlling hypertension with medications, the earlier one initiates an effective strategy, the greater the likelihood of a successful outcome.

Serendipitous Benefits of Vitamin D + Omega-3s

According to one survey, the illnesses that people fear most are cancer, dementia, and cardiovascular disease.17

When stricken with autoimmune disorders, people are often bewildered because they gave it little thought before symptoms manifest.

Most readers of this publication supplement with vitamin D and omega-3s to help protect against common age-related maladies.

This in turn may have provided a robust degree of serendipitous protection against a growing trend of autoimmune blood indicators.

For longer life,

For Longer Life

William Faloon

In this Month’s Issue…

Woman holding handfuls of fresh-picked walnuts that can improve cognitive health

Life Extension has long urged supporters to include walnuts as part of their regular diet. Favorable data continue to pour in from human studies showing remarkable disease risk reductions in those who ingest walnuts. The article on page 32 of this month’s issue describes some of these new findings.

Reduced mental energy, clarity, focus, and performance are symptoms of brain fog. Page 24 introduces an easy method to think more clearly.

Other articles published this month reveal ways to help manage blood glucose levels, improve mood, and boost immune defenses.

References

  1. Dinse GE, Parks CG, Weinberg CR, et al. Increasing Prevalence of Antinuclear Antibodies in the United States. Arthritis Rheumatol. 2020 Jun;72(6):1026-35.
  2. Richard-Eaglin A, Smallheer BA. Immunosuppressive/Autoimmune Disorders. Nurs Clin North Am. 2018 Sep;53(3):319-34.
  3. Available at: https://www.aaaai.org/Conditions-Treatments/Related-Conditions/immunosuppressive. Accessed January 17, 2022.
  4. Available at: https://acrabstracts.org/abstract/vitamin-d-and-marine-n-3-fatty-acid-supplementation-and-prevention-of-autoimmune-disease-in-the-vital-randomized-controlled-trial/. Accessed January 12, 2022.
  5. Available at: https://factor.niehs.nih.gov/2020/5/papers/autoimmunity/index.htm. Accessed April 17, 2022.
  6. Available at: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-autoimmune-registry-releases-first-complete-list-of-autoimmune-diseases-with-prevalence-statistics-disease-subtypes-and-disease-profiles-301176322.html. Accessed January 12, 2021.
  7. Available at: https://www.vitalstudy.org/. Accessed January 17, 2022.
  8. Skaaby T, Husemoen LL, Thuesen BH, et al. Prospective population-based study of the association between vitamin D status and incidence of autoimmune disease. Endocrine. 2015 Sep;50(1):231-8.
  9. Cantorna MT, Mahon BD. Mounting evidence for vitamin D as an environmental factor affecting autoimmune disease prevalence. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2004 Dec;229(11):1136-42.
  10. Murdaca G, Tonacci A, Negrini S, et al. Emerging role of vitamin D in autoimmune diseases: An update on evidence and therapeutic implications. Autoimmun Rev. 2019 Sep;18(9):102350.
  11. Duarte-Garcia A, Myasoedova E, Karmacharya P, et al. Effect of omega-3 fatty acids on systemic lupus erythematosus disease activity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Autoimmun Rev. 2020 Dec;19(12):102688.
  12. Akbar U, Yang M, Kurian D, et al. Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Rheumatic Diseases: A Critical Review. J Clin Rheumatol. 2017 Sep;23(6):330-9.
  13. Li X, Bi X, Wang S, et al. Therapeutic Potential of omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Human Autoimmune Diseases. Front Immunol. 2019 2019-September-27;10:2241.
  14. Lappe JM, Travers-Gustafson D, Davies KM, et al. Vitamin D and calcium supplementation reduces cancer risk: results of a randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jun;85(6):1586-91.
  15. Chandler PD, Chen WY, Ajala ON, et al. Effect of Vitamin D3 Supplements on Development of Advanced Cancer: A Secondary Analysis of the VITAL Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Netw Open. 2020 Nov 2;3(11):e2025850.
  16. Manson JE, Cook NR, Lee IM, et al. Vitamin D Supplements and Prevention of Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease. N Engl J Med. 2019 Jan 3;380(1):33-44.
  17. Available at: https://www.medicareadvantage.com/news/most-feared-heath-conditions-report. Accessed January 13, 2022.