When we think of "vitamins," we know they are important for health. In fact, vitamin is an organic molecule that is essential, that is, a substance which an organism needs in small quantities for the proper functioning of its metabolism.
But vitamin D is special. It's difficult to get enough vitamin D from food sources alone; vitamin D is, therefore, a very common deficiency.
Here, we discuss how much of this critical fat-soluble vitamin we need, and how you can get enough. The three ways to vitamin D are exposure to the sun, consuming vitamin D containing foods, and through supplementation.
Why is vitamin D important, and how much do we need?
Vitamin D promotes absorption in the gut and maintains adequate serum calcium and phosphate concentrations to enable normal mineralization of bone. Vitamin D has other roles in the body, including modulation of cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function, and reduction of inflammation. Vitamin D also helps to prevent mood imbalances such as depression and seasonal affective disorder.
Not getting enough vitamin D can lead to bone diseases like osteomalacia. Inadequate vitamin D can also increase your risk of heart disease, autoimmune diseases, certain cancers, and even death. Yes, vitamin D deficiency is life threatening!
The "official" minimum amount of vitamin D to strive for each day is merely 400-600 IU. Many experts think that this is not nearly enough for optimal health. To ensure you get adequate amounts of vitamin D, you can implement any combination of the three vitamin D sources mentioned below on a weekly basis.
How can I get enough vitamin D from the sun?
Your skin makes vitamin D when it's exposed to the sun; that's why it's referred to as the "sunshine vitamin". How much vitamin D your skin makes depends on many things: location, season, clouds, clothing, skin color, that all affect the amount of vitamin D your skin can produce from the sun.
One standard recommendation is to get about 5–30 minutes of sun exposure between 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. to the face, arms, legs, or back. This should be done without sunscreen, at least twice a week. Of course, we should always avoid sunburns.
Naturally, in some locations and seasons of the year, it is not easy to get sun exposure. So, how can we get enough vitamin D in other ways?
How can I get enough vitamin D from food?
Vitamin D, like omega-3, is actually present in very few foods. Vitamin D is naturally found in fatty fish, liver, and egg yolks. Some mushrooms make vitamin D when they're exposed to the sun.
Some foods are "fortified" (which means vitamin D has been added) with vitamin D. These include milk, some orange juices, breakfast cereals, and yogurt. It will say on the label how much vitamin D has been added per serving.
Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, you can increase absorption of it from your food if you eat it with some fat (healthy fat, of course).
Between sun exposure and foods, it still may be difficult to get even the minimum of 400 IU of vitamin D each day and land your serum levels within the normal range. Hence why vitamin D supplements are quite popular.
How can I get enough vitamin D from supplements?
It's easy enough to just take a vitamin D capsule or take some cod liver oil (which also contains vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids). Either of these can ensure that you get the minimum amount of vitamin D, plus a bit extra.
But before you take vitamin D containing supplements, make sure you check that it won't interact with other supplements or medications you may be taking. Always read your labels, and ask a healthcare professional for advice.
Do not take more than the suggested dosage on the label of any vitamin D supplement, except under medical care.
The maximum amount recommended (for the general population) is 4,000 IU per day. Too much vitamin D can raise your blood levels of calcium (to an unsafe level), and this can affect your heart and kidneys.
The best thing, if you're concerned, is to ask your healthcare professional to do a blood test and make a recommendation about how much vitamin in supplemental form is right for you. Your healthcare practitioner may recommend higher amounts of vitamin D supplementation for a short time while under their care to boost your serum levels to an optimal value.
Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble vitamin which many people have a hard time maintaining adequate levels of. There are three ways to get enough vitamin D: sun exposure, through vitamin D-rich foods, and in supplements.
In this post I have given you some ideas how you can get the minimum 400-600 IU of vitamin D daily. If you are concerned or are suffering from mood issues or depression, it is best to request a blood test that will measure your vitamin D levels and ensure that you are not deficient.
A blood test is strongly advice before self-medicating with a high vitamin D dosage as this vitamin will accumulate in fat cells and can lead to toxicity. I advise to always take supplements as directed.