Vitamin D: Are There Benefits Beyond Bone Health?

Vitamin D has long been recognized as essential to the skeletal system by maintaining calcium and phosphorus homeostasis. In 2019, we began examining research on the additional benefits of vitamin D. In the newly published white paper, Beyond Bone – The importance of vitamin D for immune function in swine, I outlined studies that begin to build the case of how vitamin D may play a larger role in supporting the immune systems in pigs. The information below highlights key takeaways from the paper.

Key Conclusions

  • The presence of vitamin D receptors and D3-metabolizing enzymes in almost all immune cells, involved in innate and adaptive immunity, suggests a role for 1,25(OH)2 D3 in normal immune function.1
  • Vitamin D levels are considered low in colostrum, so intake post-wean is very important, as it is a time of bone development and increased disease susceptibility.
  • Nutritional approaches to support barrier function and possibly a healthy immune response can help mitigate the negative impacts of weaning on health.2 However, vitamin D should be considered during various stages of development in a pig’s life (weaning, growth, reproduction and lactation), as it has the capability to affect immunocompetence and overall performance.
  • The recognition of the importance of nutrition in the maintenance of immune functionality is likely to increase in significance as the swine industry continues to improve and produce a more efficient animal.

25-OH D3 and Immune Activity

The role of vitamin D in supporting the immune response is well studied in humans. Epidemiological studies with humans have associated poor vitamin D status with an increased risk of several diseases, including autoimmune diseases.3 DSM has a product that contains 25-OH D3 (Hy•D®), which provides a more biologically efficient form of the vitamin that doesn’t require the initial liver hydroxylation step and can be administered through feed or water. This ensures optimal levels of active vitamin D in the pig, because 25-OH D3 is the most prevalent circulating form of vitamin D and considered the best indicator of vitamin D status.

The chart below shows the effects of 25-OH D3 on total cell number, viability and phagocytic activity of immune cells in both blood and bronchoalveolar compartments of weaned pigs.

Click here for the complete white paper.


1Baeke, F., T. Takiishi, H. Korf, C. Gysemans, and C. Mathieu. (2010) Vitamin D: modulator of the immune system. Current Opinion in Pharmacology, 10(4), 482–496.

2Humphrey, B., J. Zhao and R. Faris. (2019) Review: Link between intestinal immunity and practical approaches to swine nutrition. The Animal Consortium. 1-9.

3Peelen, E., S. Knippenberg, A.H. Muris, M. Thewissen, J. Smolders, J.W.C. Tervaert, R. Hupperts and J. Damoiseaux. (2011) Effects of vitamin D on the peripheral adaptive immune system: A review. Autoimmunity Review. 10, 733-743.

4Konowalchuk, J. D., A. M. Riegea, M. D. Kiemele, D. C. Ayres and D. R. Barreda. (2013) Modulation of weanling pig cellular immunity in response to diet supplementation with 25-hydroxyvitamin D3. Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology. 155(2), 57-66.

Hy•D is a trademark of DSM Animal Nutrition & Health.

Photo courtesy of the National Pork Board, Des Moines, Iowa.

Published on

29 October 2020


  • Swine
  • Vitamins
  • Special Nutrients

About the Author

Sara Hough - Senior Regional Technical Services, Swine – North America

Sara Hough is a senior regional technical services veterinarian for swine in North America. She holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Degree obtained at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Sara has 10+ years experience in the North American swine industry and is involved in many industry organizations.  Since joining DSM in 2019, she has been focused on how micronutrients support the immune system, and influence animal performance and lifetime productivity.  


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