D is for Defense! Vitamin D and the Immune System

posted on October 23, 2011

It`s that time of year again; cold and flu season...and the kids are coming home with more than homework.  An optimal immune system is your best defence against any bug and recent research is highlighting a key role for Vitamin D. 

Vitamin D has long been known as a regulator of calcium and, thus, is an important vitamin for bone health.  But vitamin D has far reaching benefits including boosting your immune function.  New research suggests that Vitamin D directly interacts with multiple immune cell types to modulate their function in an immune response1-2.  For our T (killer) cells, essential in the fight against serious infections, Vitamin D is responsible for changing them from dormant to activated fighter cells.  This confirms why those lacking in vitamin D face an increased risk of infectious disease and why supplementing is actually protective3.

Being that the main source of vitamin D is from sun exposure, deficiency is a very real issue for us Canadians.  It is during these cold and dark months that we get minimal sun exposure.  Even on sunny winter days, our skin exposure is inadequate to absorb enough D.  In 2010 Statistics Canada published results of a population-wide survey on Vitamin D status of Canadians.  It revealed that greater than half of Canadians do not have adequate levels known to prevent chronic diseases (like cancer) and 4% were at risk for serious deficiency syndromes such as rickets (causing serious bone deformities)4

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin.  This means that it can accumulate in your body so, although it is rare, overdosing is potentially an issue. 

So, what can you do?  Most adults are safe to supplement Vitamin D at a level of 500-1000IU per day. However, it is more important to find out your own Vitamin D status so you can supplement appropriately to obtain optimal levels.  The current recommended daily intake of 600IU will not replete a deficiency.  Sometimes short-term high dosing is necessary to get your body back on track. 

Talk to your Naturopath about getting your sunshine vitamin to boost your defenses.  They can provide Vitamin D testing and guide you on how to achieve adequate levels. 

  1. Bikle D. Vitamin D and the immune system: role in protection against bacterial infection.  Curr Opin Nephrol Hypertens. 2008 Jul;17(4):348-52.
  2. Baeke F, Takiishi T, Korf H, Gysemans C, Mathieu C. Vitamin D: modulator of the immune system. Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2010 Aug;10(4):482-96. Epub 2010 Apr 27.
  3. Urashima M, Segawa T, Okazaki M et al. Randomized trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Mar 10
  4. Langlois K, Greene-Finestone L, Little J, Hidiroglou N, & Whiting S. Vitamin D status of Canadians as measured in the 2007 to 2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey. StatsCan  Health Reports 2010:21(1)


Veganism – A Naturopath’s journey to kind eating

posted on October 21, 2011

As a Naturopathic Doctor my idea of a healthy diet always involves a balance of nutrition and enjoyment. Food is such a big part of our lives that enjoyment is not only necessary but key to long-lasting diet improvements.  Over the years I have come to realize that, for me, enjoying food goes beyond nutrition and flavour, it starts with food production.  This has fuelled my recent efforts to embark on a vegan lifestyle.

Veganism is described as a lifestyle that abstains from the use of animal products.  You may be thinking that, as a Naturopath, it must be natural to be vegan for the health benefits.  It is true that vegans, with a very high vegetable diet, reduce their risk of many conditions and diseases.  A vegetable-rich diet has long been known to manage a healthy weight, and lower the risk of almost all major causes of disease including heart disease and cancer.  Vegetables provide a great source of fibre, antioxidants and a variety of essential vitamins and minerals. Also, by consuming less meat, you may be reducing your saturated fat intake, and decreasing your exposure to a number of toxins, hormones and traces of pharmaceuticals.  Sounds good right? Well, in addition to benefitting your own health, changing to a vegan lifestyle can also benefit the health of our earth.  Raising animals for food, dairy and eggs has quite the impact on our earth.  Although this ecological impact has been threatening us for years, public awareness is becoming more prominent.  A recent publication put out by The Environmental Working Group (EWG) along with CleanMetrics Research exposes the heavy “footprint” that animal farming creates in terms of greenhouse gases. As our earth gains in population and our individual demands increase (especially in North America), a major shift in how we look at food is necessary. [FYI Check out “Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change and Health” - www.ewg.org/meateatersguide]. 

With all of that being said, I still haven’t gotten to why I decided to become vegan – to pay homage to all the creatures that walk this earth with us.  Being an animal lover my whole life, I have always gone out of my way to create distance between animal meats for consumption and animals that roam the land or sleep in our beds.  I chose not to think about what happened before those pleasantly packaged meats showed up on our store shelves because I could not stand the thought of a suffering animal or critter or the fact that I may be supporting it. (My mother would verify this with a story about the ant log we set on fire while camping when I was a child...My screams as the ants came running out of their smoking ant holes still concerns her to this day).  The more pets I had, the more I became aware of their emotions.  Although some may say that I humanize these emotions, what is undeniable to any dog owner is the pep in their step when they hear the word “walk” or the solemn look on their face with the word “no”.  This got me thinking about farm animals...and with the onslaught documentaries specifically on factory farming in the past decade, I didn’t need my imagination to understand that animals are indeed suffering. 

For me, this was enough to educate myself on veganism.  After much reading I realized that this was a new and potentially challenging lifestyle, but one that I could be on board with while aligning my values and eating habits.  I have found joy in believing in something and following through on it every day.

Understand, I am not against the consumption of meat nor do I want meat-lovers to shy away from becoming informed. I respect the natural food chain and in fact, I am hoping that recent movements will promote a more natural farming industry.  I am a strong supporter of the ethical farming movement. 

However, as a Naturopath I do believe that many of us consume more meat than necessary – driving the increases in meat production.  So I challenge you to find joy in trying new food selections of the vegetarian/vegan variety.  Whether you agree with veganism or not, increasing your veggie intake can benefit your health and our earth!

Here is a veg recipe that I love.  Feel free to try it or make your own delicious version to help kick-start this challenge in your life:

QUINOA TABOULEH – Michelle’s yummy favourite!

A wonderfully healthy dish – full of colour, flavour and fabulous nutrients!  Eat as a side salad or add cooked beans and/or tofu to make it a hearty meal.  One of my new favourite dishes everyday; and while on detox. 

What you will need:

  • 1c organic quinoa
  • 2c water
  • ½ English cucumber – diced
  • 2 roma tomatoes seeded and diced
  • ½ small red onion - minced
  • 3 stalks of green onion – chopped
  • 1 ½ c loosely packed minced fresh parsley
  • 1c minced fresh cilantro
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Zest of 1 lemon rind
  • 1/3c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp sea salt (or add to taste)
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper (or add to taste)

To make:

  1. Wash quinoa thoroughly to remove bitter white coating, then rinse and drain
  2. Cook quinoa
  3. Rice cooker (easier!) – add washed quinoa and water to rice cooker and turn on!
  4. Stove-top – bring water to a boil in medium pot. Add quinoa nad reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until all water absorbed (leave lid on as much as possible - about 20 minutes).
  5. Place quinoa in a large bowl and set aside to cool and dry (put in fridge or freezer if wanting to cool faster – that way you can skip step 6 if wanting to serve immediately). 
  6. Add to bowl: cucumber, tomatoes, onions, parsley and cilantro.
  7. To make dressing: whisk together oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Pour dressing over salad and toss well to combine.
  8. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.
  9. Serve chilled.