The Ultimate Guide to Vitamin D
Vitamin D supplements have long been popular members of the nutritional supplement community. Vitamin D supplements are purported to come with a wide range of benefits, including stronger bones and higher calcium levels.
Should you be taking a vitamin D supplement? Does vitamin D actually provide powerful health benefits? Can you actually reduce your risk of osteoporosis, psoriasis, kidney failure, and other diseases with vitamin D?
Today, we’re going to answer those questions in our ultimate guide to vitamin D supplements.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a vitamin found in small amounts in certain foods. Dairy products are the most common dietary source of vitamin D, although it can also be found in certain types of fish and vitamin D-enhanced cereals.
The sun is the most common non-dietary source of vitamin D. In fact, the skin’s exposure to sunlight can produce as much as 80% to 90% of the body’s vitamin D.
Vitamin D can also be synthesized in laboratories. After being synthesized in labs, it’s sold as a dietary supplement – like the ones you see on store shelves.
What are the Health Benefits of Vitamin D?
Vitamin D has been extensively tested over the years by scientists around the world. Like many vitamins, it’s been directly connected to a number of powerful health benefits. Here’s what we know about the health benefits of vitamin D:
Treat Conditions Which Cause Weak Bones
Vitamin D has a powerful effect on bone health within the body. Doctors will often recommend vitamin D supplementation for treating conditions which cause weak and painful bones – like osteomalacia. Vitamin D supports stronger bone structure at a chemical level, which makes our bones stronger and more resistant against disease and physical damage.
Vitamin D is also used to treat osteoporosis. Those with osteoporosis typically take a specific form of vitamin D called cholecalciferol, also known as vitamin D3, which when taken with calcium can help reduce bone loss and prevent bone fractures. Vitamin D3 is typically the type of vitamin D supplement you see on store shelves.
Raise Phosphate Levels In The Blood
Vitamin D is also commonly used to raise phosphate levels in the blood. Low phosphate levels are typically caused by two diseases: familial hypophosphatemia and Fanconi syndrome. Low phosphate levels are associated with poor nutrition, severe alcoholism, or the use of certain medications – like diuretics or asthma medications – for a long period of time.
A recent study showed that many people who have psoriasis are also deficient in vitamin D. that’s why many doctors treat psoriasis using ultraviolet (UV) light, which stimulates vitamin D production in the body. Of course, UV radiation also comes with dangerous side-effects, which is why treating psoriasis with a vitamin D supplement is often more effective.
Raise Calcium Levels
There’s a significant connection between calcium and vitamin D. Specifically, the body uses vitamin D and calcium to create strong, dense bones, making them the two most important nutrients for bone health.
Every day, our bodies lose vitamin D and calcium through our skin, hair, nails, and feces. Since we can’t produce either nutrient on our own, we need to replenish our levels from our diet.
Doctors often recommend treating low blood calcium levels using vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D and calcium complement the effects of one another, and taking a supplement in one can cancel out the harmful effects of a deficiency in the other.
Low blood calcium levels can be caused by low parathyroid thyroid hormone levels as well as conditions like renal osteodystrophy and kidney failure.
Rickets is a disorder caused by a deficiency of vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate. Rickets weakens and softens the bones and is commonly seen in children between the ages of 6 months and 2 years. If a child only breast feeds, they may not be receiving enough vitamin D, which is why many parents give their children vitamin D supplements as they age.
There are a few different types of rickets. Doctors typically treat – and prevent – rickets using a vitamin D supplement.
How Much Vitamin D Do We Need?
Men and women under the age of 50 require 400 to 800 International Units (IU) of vitamin D every day.
Men and women over the age of 50 typically require more than that, and the recommended dose is between 800 to 1,000 IU per day.
The recommended safe upper limit for vitamin D supplementation is 4000 IU per day for most adults. Taking more than that amount can lead to vitamin D side effects, which we’ll discuss below.
Best Ways to Get More Vitamin D
You can get vitamin D in three different ways:
— Exposure to sunlight, or more specifically, UV radiation
— Nutritional supplements
When sunlight hits our skin, it raises vitamin D levels in the body. Our skin actually makes vitamin D from the ultra-violet light (UVB) rays in sunlight. Our bodies will store this vitamin D throughout the day and use it when needed.
The amount of vitamin D stored by your body depends on a number of different factors, including skin color, time of day, time of year (season), latitude, and more. In northern climates, vitamin D production from sunlight may be virtually impossible during the winter, which is why vitamin D supplements are strongly recommended in these climates.
Of course, the main problem with getting vitamin D from sunlight is that UV radiation comes with dangerous side effects. UV light causes cancer. When we cover up our skin using sunscreen, we also reduce the skin’s ability to store vitamin D. In fact, an SPF rating of just 8 reduces the production of vitamin D by 95%.
That’s why the best way to get your recommended daily amount of vitamin D is through foods or nutritional supplements.
Foods With Vitamin D
Vitamin D isn’t found naturally in very many foods. In fact, the only common natural sources of vitamin D are fatty fish like salmon and tuna.
However, due to the health benefits of vitamin D, many foods are artificially enriched with vitamin D. The vitamin is commonly added to milk and other dairy products, for example, and it can also be found in orange juice, soy milk, and cereal.
If you’re looking for foods that contain vitamin D, always check the label. Foods will clearly mention that they’ve been enriched with vitamin D.
One 8 ounce serving of milk will typically have 25% of your daily value of vitamin D based on a 400 IU daily intake. That works out to 100 IU of vitamin D per each eight ounce serving of milk. Of course, as mentioned above, doctors recommend getting anywhere from 800 to 1,000 IU per day, which means you’ll need to drink a lot of milk.
Vitamin D Supplements
Ultimately, it’s difficult to get your daily recommended dose of vitamin D from food or sunlight alone. That’s why most people choose to move onto our final category of vitamin D sources: nutritional supplements.
You can walk into any health food store or supermarket and find vitamin D supplements on the shelves. They’re some of the most common nutritional supplements available today.
In fact, if you’re already taking a multivitamin, it may contain your recommended daily dose of vitamin D. Calcium supplements also frequently contain vitamin D. Check to see if you’re already getting vitamin D from these sources: you don’t want to exceed the recommended daily maximum amount (4,000 IU).
Now, before you go rushing to the store, I should tell you that there are two types of vitamin D supplements:
— Vitamin D2 (Ergocalciferol)
— Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol)
There’s actually a big debate within the medical community over which type of vitamin D supplement is more effective. One recent study indicated that these vitamins are not as “bioequivalent” as previously thought and should not be considered interchangeable.
What we do know is that both types of vitamin D are very good for bone health. Recent studies have also indicated that Cholecalciferol is a more effective supplement due to its shorter half-life and decreased potency, which increases bioavailability without overwhelming your body.
Meanwhile, Ergocalciferol is often prescribed by doctors in weekly doses to treat severe vitamin D deficiencies.
Ultimately, when you buy vitamin D from a typical health food store or supermarket, you’re buying vitamin D3.
These supplements can be taken with or without food. Interestingly enough, our bodies require vitamin D in order to absorb calcium, but we don’t need calcium in order to absorb vitamin D. So you can safely take vitamin D on its own.
Should You Take a Vitamin D Supplement?
Here are some of the types of people who will particularly benefit from taking a vitamin D supplement:
— People who spend little time outdoors, cover up in sunlight, or wear sunscreen at all times when outdoors.
— People who live in northern climates where sunlight is weaker or available for only brief hours in the winter.
— People with certain medical conditions like celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease are more likely to be vitamin D deficient.
— People taking medicines that affect vitamin D levels, including certain anti-seizure medication
— Anyone who is obese or overweight
Talk to your doctor to determine if vitamin D supplements are right for you. Certain risk factors make you more likely to develop vitamin D deficiency, and doctors can recommend a supplement program that works for you.
Side Effects of Vitamin D
Most people will not experience vitamin D side effects unless they take an excessive amount (greater than 4,000 IU per day).
In larger doses, vitamin D can cause weakness, fatigue, sleepiness, headache, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, and a metallic taste. However, staying within the recommended dose of your vitamin D supplement should help you avoid any potential side effects.
Choosing the Right Vitamin D Supplement
Whether you’re buying vitamin D online or in-store, you should always try to buy a natural, pure vitamin D supplement.
As mentioned above, vitamin D3 has proven to be more effective than vitamin D2 in recent studies, and it tends to be the most common vitamin D supplement you’ll see on store shelves.
Ideally, the vitamin D supplement you buy will simply contain vitamin D in capsulated form with no fillers or other artificial ingredients. This lets your body absorb the maximum amount of vitamin D supplement with no harmful side effects.