Over the years, the role of vitamin D in chronic liver disease has been studied by many scientists. Some research shows that chronic liver disease leads to vitamin D deficiency, but many studies also show that low vitamin D levels may lead to liver disease.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble substance that is synthesized in the skin during exposure to sunlight. This is why it is often called the sunshine vitamin.
Although it is called a vitamin, it is not an essential vitamin in the strictest sense of the word because it is formed in the body. In contrast, vitamins are substances that must be obtained from the diet because the body does not produce them naturally. Very few foods contain vitamin D, and these include oily fish such as sardines, salmon and mackerel, eggs and beef liver.
There are two types of vitamin D – cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) and ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) – which can be obtained from the diet and from dietary supplements. When the body receives enough sunlight, it synthesizes vitamin D as cholecalciferol in the skin.
Vitamin D is believed to play an important role in bone health, as well as in promoting neuromuscular and immune functions of the body. Studies show that it has antioxidant effects and can help prevent chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. On the other hand, research shows that a deficiency in this vitamin can lead to weak bones (osteomalacia or rickets in children) and may increase one’s risk for cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment (decreased mental abilities), severe asthma in children, and cancer. Recent research also suggests that low vitamin D levels may play a role in various forms of chronic liver disease such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), alcoholic cirrhosis and autoimmune liver disease.
Vitamin D Deficiency and Liver Disease
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) states that people have sufficient levels of vitamin D at ≥50 nmol/L (≥20 ng/mL) while a deficiency of the vitamin occurs at levels below 30 nmol/L (<12 ng/mL). Studies show that up to 30% of adults have lower than normal vitamin D levels in their bodies. This condition is called hypovitaminosis D, which is now considered a worldwide epidemic. Recent research suggests a strong association between low vitamin D levels with NAFLD, alcoholic liver cirrhosis, a group of autoimmune liver diseases such as primary biliary cirrhosis, autoimmune hepatitis, and primary sclerosing cholangitis. Scientists are not sure whether it is the low vitamin D levels that is causing liver disease or if the vitamin deficiency is a result of liver disease.
Doctors recommend adequate sunlight exposure, consumption of vitamin-D rich foods and fortified foods and supplementation if necessary to prevent vitamin D deficiency and its complications. Vitamin D supplements are generally recommended for people who live in certain places where there are long winters and not enough sunlight, elderly individuals who do not get enough sun exposure, and those who have poor diets. Guidelines from IOM set the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin D at 600 IU for everyone up to the age of 70, and 800 IU for older people to promote bone health. For people with liver disease, it is necessary to monitor their vitamin D levels to prevent or treat deficiency, which can lead to complications such as osteomalacia and osteoporosis.
Liver Detox Helps Prevent Liver Disease
With the increase in unhealthy lifestyle factors such as poor diet, alcohol consumption and nutritional deficiencies, chronic liver disease is fast becoming a common health problem. Doctors often recommend losing excess weight, eating a healthy diet and avoiding substances such as drugs and alcohol, which can harm the liver. Another way to support liver health is to do a liver detox or a natural liver cleansing diet to remove harmful toxins in the body, which the liver usually has to deal with. These toxins include poisonous chemicals from the environment in the form of insecticides, smog or pesticides, unclean water, and food substances such as sugar, artificial food additives, caffeine, and medications.
There are various liver detox diets and colon cleansing methods but one of the best ways to detoxify the body naturally is to eat plenty of vitamin-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables, fruit juices, and food supplements that contain vitamins A,B,C, D, and E.
People who wish to undergo stricter diets and regular liver detox regimens must consult their doctors for proper guidance. In general, liver detox is not recommended for individuals who have low blood sugar levels, heart disease, and other serious health conditions.
Nair, S. Vitamin D Deficiency and Liver Disease. Gastroenterol Hepatol Aug 2010; 6(8):491-493. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2950664/
NIH. Vitamin D. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
WebMD. Natural Liver Detox Diets (Liver Cleansing). http://www.webmd.com/balance/natural-liver-detox-diets-liver-cleansing?page=2