Often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin,” Vitamin D is part of the essential suite of nutrients that your body needs to be fit and well.
Unlike the other vitamins and minerals, the diet does not provide sufficient amounts of Vitamin D from their diet. Some foods are fortified with vitamin D, however, the main source of vitamin D is exposure to the sun.
Here’s what you should know about Vitamin D and how to make sure you’re getting enough.
It’s important to address any deficiency in Vitamin D as it plays a crucial role in the body, both for children and adults. By regulating the amounts of calcium and phosphate in your body, Vitamin D helps to keep bones and teeth healthy. It also supports the development and maintenance of muscle tissue.
Vitamin D3 is also known as cholecalciferol and is the type of Vitamin D you may often hear described as it’s produced by your skin when exposed to sunlight. It’s also present in small quantities in meat, eggs, fish, and dairy. Alternatively, it can be found in lichen, a type of edible fungus that contains both vitamin D3 and D2.
Although both D2 and D3 are beneficial, the latter has the greatest effect on health and well-being. This is because it has greater bioavailability and can be used by the body far more easily.
Studies have shown that it is Vitamin D3 that sustains levels of Vitamin D within the body, even during the winter months when sun exposure is low. As Vitamin D is primarily gained from animal products when direct sunlight is unavailable, vegetarians and vegans may be deficient in this vitamin.
Where Can You Get Vitamin D?
As mentioned above, your body can create its own supply of Vitamin D, but you’ll need exposure to sunlight. The bad news is that if you use sunscreen or stay behind glass, you won’t produce as much Vitamin D and may not be able to meet your requirements.
Sunscreen is important for protecting against skin cancer, so doctors don’t advise UV exposure without it. Some experts suggest exposing your skin (most body uncovered) for just 10-15 minutes to the sun before slathering on the sunscreen. However, you will need to decide whether this is safe for your skin type as it’s important not to risk sunburn.
If you don’t live in a sunny climate or do not get enough exposure to natural sunlight, there are other ways to get your dose of Vitamin D.
Vitamin D supplements are widely available in pharmacies and health food stores. Another source of vitamin D is cod liver oil. Cod liver oil will give you sufficient quantities to meet your daily requirements. Very few other foods contain enough Vitamin D unless you were to eat them every day, in large amounts. Examples include fatty fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna, and swordfish. Beef liver, eggs, and sardines are other good sources of Vitamin D.
Vegetarians can get small amounts of Vitamin D from egg yolks while vegans can get it from lichen, which is a type of fungus.
It’s also common for certain types of food, such as breakfast cereals and dairy products, to be fortified with Vitamin D. This can also be a good way to boost your intake.
Babies up to 12 months old: 10 micrograms (400 IU)
Children above 12 months old and adults: 15 micrograms (600 IU)
Seniors over 70 years of 20 micrograms (800 IU)
Some individuals are at higher risk to develop vitamin D deficiency: those who do not have regular exposure to sunlight, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, people with darker skin, those who are obese or have undergone gastric bypass surgery, and people with conditions that limit fat absorption ( liver disease, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease).
During the summer, it is possible to get enough Vitamin D from the sunshine. It’s much harder in the winter months, and therefore you need to take vitamin D supplements during this time.
Vitamin D Deficiency
It’s more common to be deficient in Vitamin D than other vitamins, but it can take many years for symptoms to appear.
Children who don’t get enough Vitamin D may develop rickets, a bone disease that causes pain and deformity. Adults may suffer from osteoporosis and more fractures and broken bones.
As you store Vitamin D in your body, it is possible for it to build up to toxic levels over a prolonged period of time. This is very rare. Signs and symptoms of toxicity are unlikely at daily intakes below 250 mcg (10,000 IU).
Although the effects of Vitamin D overdose are unpleasant, it’s worth emphasizing that it’s very unusual for this to occur. The typical daily dose of vitamin D is 1000-3000 IU. Ideally, you should supplement based on vitamin D blood tests, as you may need higher doses.
When choosing a Vitamin D supplement, you should check the strength to make sure you are comparing similar products on price. Supplements are all based on Vitamin D3 nowadays. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, it’s possible to get Vitamin D supplements without the use of animals.