Vitamin D is a vitamin that plays an important role in maintaining strong bones and teeth, as well as helping with immune function and reducing the risk of certain chronic diseases. While vitamin D is found naturally in a few foods, the main source of this nutrient is exposure to sunlight. Despite this, many people do not get enough vitamin D, which can lead to a deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency can have negative impacts on health.
Why is Vitamin D Important?
Vitamin D is essential for the body’s absorption of calcium and phosphate which are critical for bone growth and strength. In children, vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets, a condition in which bones become soft and weak. In adults, vitamin D deficiency can contribute to osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become fragile and prone to fractures.
Vitamin D also plays a role in supporting the immune system, and research has shown that it may reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, and cognitive decline.
How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?
The amount of vitamin D you need varies depending on your age, sex, and other factors such as skin color and geographic location. The recommended daily intake for most adults is 600-800 IU (International Units) per day, although some studies suggest that higher doses may be needed to maintain optimal levels.
It is difficult to get enough vitamin D from diet alone, as few foods naturally contain significant amounts of this nutrient. Some dietary sources of vitamin D include fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, egg yolks, and fortified foods such as milk and cereal. However, the best source of vitamin D is sunlight and supplements.
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Sunlight and Vitamin D
When your skin is exposed to sunlight, it produces vitamin D naturally. However, the amount of vitamin D your skin produces depends on several factors, such as the time of day, season, latitude of the location you are in, and skin color. For example, people with darker skin require more sun exposure to produce the same amount of vitamin D as those with lighter skin.
While sunlight is a great source of vitamin D, and sunscreen can reduce vitamin D absorption, it is still important to protect your skin from excessive sun exposure to minimize the risk of skin cancer.
Vitamin D Supplements
If you are unable to get enough vitamin D from food or sunlight, you may need to take a vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D supplements are available in two forms: vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol).
Before taking a vitamin D supplement, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider to determine whether you need one, and if so, how much to take. Taking too much vitamin D can result in harmful side effects such as high calcium levels (potentially leading to heart and kidney problems), loss of appetite, and irregular heart rhythm.
In summary, vitamin D is a crucial nutrient for maintaining strong bones, supporting immune function, and reducing the risk of certain chronic diseases. While it is difficult to get enough vitamin D from diet alone, exposure to sunlight and vitamin D supplements can help maintain adequate levels. Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you are getting enough vitamin D and whether you may need a supplement.
1) National Institutes of Health. Vitamin D Fact Sheet For Consumers; Nov 2022. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-Consumer/#:~:text=Vitamin%20D%20is%20a%20nutrient,them%20more%20likely%20to%20break.
2) Harvard School of Public Health. Vitamin D; March 2023. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-d/
3) Mayo Clinic. Vitamin D; Feb 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-vitamin-d/art-20363792