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HomeHealth and WellnessWhy Vitamin D, B12 and iron deficiency may be making you prone...

Why Vitamin D, B12 and iron deficiency may be making you prone to viral infection every flu season

It is flu season again and our OPDs are full of viral infections of all kinds, be it dengue, H3N2 and COVID-19. In fact, some of my patients keep on contracting some form of virus every season, and while acquired immunity from one particular strain doesn’t guarantee protection from another, there is a section who are vulnerable to severe infection.

We know that a specific population is predisposed to recurrent diseases like children, the elderly, pregnant women, hospital workers and those working in a crowded place where the ecosystem could be crawling with viruses. We all know that a lot of immune dysregulations, or faulty immune responses, have been a post COVID-19 development, especially among those who have had severe manifestation of the infection. A combination of compromised lungs and pollutants in the air around us has meant that we take longer to recover from our condition that weakens us progressively. But what we ignore among all this is to take care of our basic vitamin deficiencies, considering them to be of least importance unless a blood report for some diagnosis throws up something to watch out for. The vitamins that you need for long-term immunity are B12, D and the crucial mineral called iron.

WHY VITAMIN B 12 DEFICIENCY

This deficiency primarily happens to anybody at any age when we do not eat a balanced meal. Vitamin B12 helps your body make DNA, the primary building block of your cells. And since your body cannot make vitamin B12 on its own, you need to rely on a food source that’s rich in it, namely meat, dairy and eggs. Adults need around 2.4 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin B12 a day, and those recovering from diseases, growing children, pregnant or breastfeeding women need them more. Milk and dairy products have the most voluminous amounts of B12, so those not having them, have to rely on alternative dietary sources or fortified foods. That’s why supplements need to be taken.

Some patients complain that they do okay as long as the supplementation is on but their deficiency returns after their course is done. This kind of perpetual deficiency happens in those who have absorption problems. There are parietal cells in our digestive system that absorb the vitamins and when your bodies have antibodies against these cells and damage them, then you are likely to have a B 12 deficiency. The inflammation of your stomach lining and lack of hydrochloric acid in your stomach, which is needed for vitamin B12 absorption, can plummet levels. Some patients have pernicious anaemia, a rare medical condition when their stomachs cannot make a crucial protein called intrinsic factor which their bodies need to absorb B12. With scarce levels of B12, their blood counts drop and they have what is called pernicious anaemia. Those who have undergone gastric bypass (weight loss surgery) have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12. Many people are not unaware that they are living with these conditions or that they need vitamin B12 supplements at regular intervals.

WHY SOME PEOPLE HAVE PERMANENT VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY

People naturally associate Vitamin D as an enabler of calcium absorption, which is required for bone health and maintaining electrical rhythms and pumping of the heart. It also has a crucial role in your immunity.

The easiest way to get it is through the skin. An exposure window of 15 minutes early morning should do. But there are other reasons why the deficiency reoccurs in certain people the moment they have given up their supplementation. Like vitamin B12, some malabsorption causes deficiency too. Also, in certain health conditions, your liver or kidneys cannot convert vitamin D to its active form in the body. People who take medicines that affect vitamin D levels, including certain cholesterol, anti-seizure, steroid and weight-loss medicines, may need supplements.

Vitamin D helps fight off infection by regulating the activity of immune cells which elicit antiviral responses. It binds to receptors on immune cells or natural killer cells and stimulates them to produce peptides with antiviral properties that defend the body against foreign pathogens. Multiple studies have shown that vitamin D plays a role in both activating these cells, helping them fight off infections and suppressing immune response in cases of over inflammation.

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The amount of vitamin D you need varies by age. Measured as internal units, a human being from birth to 12 months needs 400 IU, one-13 years needs 600 IU, teen to 18 years needs 600 IU, 19-70 years needs 600 IU and 71 years and older needs 800 IU. But if you have a deficiency, you might need more and need to consult a doctor.

WHAT IRON DEFICIENCY DOES

Iron deficiency anaemia makes you more vulnerable to diseases. Many patients of mine overlook mild anaemia, saying their haemoglobin counts have been hovering around 10 g/dL for years and they haven’t felt uncomfortable about it. Some patients do not know that they might be having thalassemia minor, which is asymptomatic and the result of a genetic trait. Many times people with thalassemia minor are prescribed a supplemental B vitamin, known as folic acid, to help treat anaemic conditions. This helps in the formation of red blood cells. That’s why a diagnosis becomes important.

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The good news is that everything can be taken care of with supplements and diet discipline. What is needed to take care of vitamin supplementation is maintenance dosage. In fact, I would recommend rotation of having supplements six months a year to ensure that all vitamin deficiency is taken care of. Developing immunity is a long-drawn process and you need to invest in these micronutrients to battle the next wave of flu.

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