Read on to learn everything you need to know about vitamin D as a natural nutrient, its use & benefits, and how to get more of it.
Why We Need Vitamin D?
Vitamin D can dissolve in fats and oils, meaning it is absorbed along with fats in the diet and stored in the body’s fatty tissue and the liver.
Vitamin D’s primary role is to manage calcium and phosphate to keep your bones, teeth, and muscles healthy and strong. A deficiency of vitamin D can cause osteomalacia, the softening of the bones in adults and rickets in children. In addition, preliminary studies show getting enough vitamin D is linked to reduced risks of certain diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Health Benefits Of Vitamin D
The major vitamin D health benefits include:
Strong Bones and Muscles
Vitamin D helps manage calcium and phosphate in your body, both of which are essential for bone and muscle health. If you are vitamin D deficient, you will be at greater risk for developing osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become brittle and weak. Also, remember that your teeth are bones, so you need enough vitamin D for stronger teeth.
Note: According to a 2022 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, healthy midlife and older adults, if they aren’t deficient in vitamin D, will not necessarily benefit from vitamin D supplementation, especially for minimizing bone fracture risk.
Many research studies on the impact of vitamin D in strengthening your immune system and preventing certain diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer have shown encouraging results. For example, a large 2020 study by researchers at the University of Chicago Medicine even indicated a link between vitamin D deficiency and the chances of getting infected with COVID-19.
According to Dr. Marilyn Tan, an endocrinologist and clinical associate professor at Stanford Medicine who has studied vitamin D extensively: “We know for sure that vitamin D has a role in preventing osteoporosis and bone loss. However, though Vitamin D plays some role in immunity, it’s not a very clear and defined connection. And the majority of the studies about disease prevention (including COVID) are preliminary.”
Supports Mental Health
Some research shows low vitamin D levels are associated with depression and getting enough of it may improve overall mental health. But, again, the study is too preliminary for doctors to consider vitamin D as a treatment for anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.
How Can You Get Vitamin D?
Read on the top ways to get enough vitamin D.
The sun is one of the most known and natural ways to get vitamin D. When skin is exposed to sunlight; it produces vitamin D from cholesterol present in skin cells.
Unfortunately, exposure to the sun (UV rays) also correlates with skin cancer. Therefore, we should always weigh the risks and benefits when it comes to spending time in the sun due to the risk of skin cancer risk.
A United Kingdom study of 120 white people found that just 13 minutes of summer sun exposure three times a week is enough to keep vitamin D levels within a healthy range. However, while many evidence suggests you need sun exposure to boost vitamin D sufficiently, Tan cautions against spending extra time in the sun due to the risk of skin cancer risk.
Read here how to get more vitamin D from the sun.
Vitamin D-Rich Foods
Though not as effective as the sun, your everyday diet can contribute to getting much-needed vitamin D, too. Eating vitamin D-rich foods is particularly helpful if you are not getting much sun exposure or have darker skin and thus don’t make as much vitamin D naturally.
Not many foods are naturally high in vitamin D—but fortunately, there are some. For example, a salmon is an excellent option because, in addition to vitamin D, it also has omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, some foods are usually fortified with vitamin D, such as orange juice, milk, cereals, and yogurt. But fulfilling all your vitamin D needs from food alone can be challenging.
How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?
The National Institutes of Health recommend the following daily amount (RDA) of vitamin D:
Infants (0 to 12 months): 400 IU (10 mcg) per day
Children & adults (1 to 70 years old): 600 IU (15 mcg) per day
Adults (71 & older): 800 IU (20 mcg) a day
Foods Naturally High in Vitamin D
While there are a handful of foods fortified with vitamin D, few foods contain vitamin D naturally. Those that do are usually animal-based.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, it will be more difficult for you to get vitamin D from food than a person who eats animal products. Therefore, in addition to ensuring you’re eating mushrooms, choose fortified kinds of milk (plant-based for vegans) and talk to your healthcare provider or registered nutritionist about taking a supplement.
Foods Fortified With Vitamin D
According to research in the journal Nutrition, one of the most practical and simplest ways to fight vitamin & mineral deficiencies, especially vitamin D, is the fortification of staple foods or commonly consumed foods.
Some examples are:
- Vitamin D-fortified milk
- Vitamin D-fortified almond, soy, or oat milk
- Vitamin D-fortified cheese
- Vitamin D-fortified cereal
- Vitamin D-fortified yogurt
Can You Have Too Much Vitamin D?
Yes, it is possible to have too much vitamin D. What makes vitamin D different from other vitamins is that it’s a fat-soluble vitamin – for example, unlike vitamin C, which is water-soluble. So when you ingest too much water-soluble vitamin, like vitamin C, your body excretes the excess via the urine. But the same doesn’t happen with vitamin D.
However, it’s unlikely to have vitamin D toxicity from diet or sun exposure. But when a person takes vitamin D supplements—whether through a prescription or drops – it can go up to very high levels. Too much vitamin D can lead to calcium buildup and cause the formation of kidney stones and other health issues.
According to a 2019 study in JAMA, generally, a dose of vitamin D of more than 4,000 IU a day is toxic — a level that may, in fact, harm bone health rather than helping it. In addition, vitamin D toxicity can lead to hypercalcemia, a medical condition caused by an above-average amount of calcium in the blood, which can result in loss of appetite, dehydration, polyuria, excessive thirst, vomiting, nausea, neuropsychiatric disturbances, muscle weakness, pain, and kidney stones.
Should you take a Vitamin D Supplement?
Many different forms of vitamin D supplements are available. Whereas it’s generally recommended to get certain nutrients from food, this reasoning doesn’t apply to vitamin D. The best way you get vitamin D naturally is from sun exposure, but this is controversial due to UV exposure risks.
To ascertain whether you require a vitamin D supplement, you need a blood test to find out your vitamin D level. How much you need to supplement depends on this number. Therefore, you should take a vitamin D supplement only if your doctor recommends it after considering the outcome of this blood test and take only the prescribed amount.
People who could potentially be at risk for vitamin D deficiency include:
- People with darker skin – because their bodies don’t synthesize vitamin D from the sun as efficiently.
- People who live in climates with less sunlight.
- People who don’t naturally get adequate sun exposure.
- Older populations because they need more vitamin D daily.
Vitamin D2 vs. Vitamin D3: What’s the Difference?
When you consider vitamin D supplement options or look at nutrition facts, you notice vitamin D is listed in two forms: D2 and D3.
- Vitamin D2. It’s derived from plant-based sources such as mushrooms and yeast.
- Vitamin D3. It’s obtained from animal-based sources such as salmon, eggs, and milk.
Research shows D2 and D3 are equally effective in boosting vitamin D levels. Both are well-absorbed by the human body. You may choose whatever is most readily available.
About Author: Renu Bakshi, AKA Fitness Buffhq, is ISSA Certified Elite Trainer. He passed Personal Fitness Trainer Course, Nutrition Health Coach course & Specialist Exercise Therapy course from ISSA, USA obtaining + 97% marks. He shares his experience and knowledge about nutrition and effective workouts to get you in the best shape of your life, no matter how old you may be. The author says: “For me age is just a number!”