Your Guide to Vitamin D: Why It’s Important and How to Get Enough of It

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grab some sunshine to boost your vitamin DA healthy lifestyle starts with a balanced diet to give your body all the nutrients it needs to thrive, from calcium to vitamin D, iron and more. Healthy eating plays a role in preventing certain diseases and gives us energy throughout the day. Our bodies need lots of different vitamins and minerals to function at their best, and problems arise when we sometimes can’t get everything we need, even with our best eating efforts. This is where supplementation comes in.

Let’s take a closer look at the effects of vitamin D and how you can add more of it to your diet.

Why is Vitamin D Important?

Vitamin D is critical because it helps regulate calcium and phosphate in the body, which are needed for healthy bones and teeth. It offers other health benefits, too, such as:

• Improves immune function
• Reduces inflammation
• Guards against muscle cramps and spasms
• May protect against certain cancers (including breast and colorectal)

A deficiency can have serious consequences, sometimes leading to rickets in children and osteomalacia (a softening of the bones that can result in bone fractures) or osteoporosis in adults. Humans get most of their vitamin D from sunlight, as sun exposure triggers its synthesis in the skin. That means deficiency is often not a problem for those who spend a lot of time outdoors during the summer, but many people in the United States still do not get enough.

Here are a few other things that contribute to low vitamin D levels:

• Consistently using sunscreen or covering your skin during prolonged sun exposure: While it’s a good idea to help prevent skin cancer, sunscreen does limit exposure to the ultraviolet light that synthesizes the vitamin in your body.

• Spending more time indoors during the winter months.

• Having darker skin: High levels of melanin block more UV light and may contribute to low levels of the nutrient.

If these situations apply to you, you probably need a supplemental source of vitamin D. There are some foods that contain vitamin D, but they typically do have enough to meet vitamin D requirements.

Foods Sources of Vitamin D

These are foods you can add to your diet to help you get more vitamin D:

• Wild-caught fatty fish (like salmon, sardines or mackerel)
• Egg yolks
• Shiitake mushrooms
• Fortified foods (milk, orange juice, cereals)

The truth is, though, that there aren’t a lot of food sources of this vitamin. A supplement is the most reliable way for most people to get enough vitamin D for optimal health.

Vitamin D Supplementation

Of the two common vitamin D supplements, D3 (cholecalciferol) is preferred because it is more easily metabolized than D2 (ergocalciferol). This is thanks to a specific enzyme we already have in our livers. D3 comes in multiple forms, meaning you can choose between softgels or drops.

Here are some tips for how to choose a high-quality vitamin D supplement:

• Choose D3 over D2, as D3 is the more active form and is more easily metabolized.

• Check the ingredients list and avoid fillers, artificial colors and artificial flavors. You may also want to ensure your supplement is free of wheat, corn, sugar and dairy.

• Make sure the potency is guaranteed so you’re getting the amount listed on the label.

The Mayo Clinic suggests a minimum of 600 IU per day, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adults. The RDA for older adults (age 70+) is 800 IU per day.

Though the bigger public health problem is not getting enough, keep in mind it is possible to get too much vitamin D. Toxicity is rare, though, and it is generally the result of taking megadoses of 10,000-60,000 IU per day over a period of time. It often takes months before symptoms appear, such as loss of appetite and weight loss, nausea, muscle weakness, excessive thirst, frequent urination, and eventually bone pain and kidney problems.

A daily intake of up to 4,000 IU per day is considered safe and beneficial for most people, though it’s a good idea to discuss supplementation with your healthcare provider. Higher doses should always be taken under medical recommendation and careful guidance.

Are You Vitamin D Deficient?

Many healthcare professionals and labs consider a normal vitamin D blood level to range from 30-100 ng/mL, though some integrative doctors consider 50-70 ng/mL to be an optimal range. Above 150 ng/mL would be considered toxic.

There are a few symptoms of deficiency you can watch for. If you experience any of these, talk to your doctor to test your levels and rule out other medical conditions:

• Frequent illness
• General fatigue
• Bone pain
• Hair loss
• Muscle weakness
• Depression

A surprisingly large number of people in the U.S. have low levels of vitamin D, partly due to our indoor lifestyles. If you’re concerned about yours, talk to your doctor about a test and tailored support for supplementation.

Learn More About Vitamin D Supplements

Taking supplements in the form of softgels or drops is an easy way to ensure you have enough of this important nutrient in your system to promote bone health, a strong immune system and more. Contact Village Green Apothecary to speak with an expert about your vitamin D questions.

Photo from here, with thanks.

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January 2023