What is vitamin D exactly? It is a nutrient used by the body to help us have strong healthy bones and a strong immune system as well as feeling energized. This vitamin also helps protect us from heart disease, strokes, hypertension, muscle weakness, inflammation, diabetes, depression and more.
Vitamin D is fat soluble, meaning it stores in the fat in our body – and also meaning that the body doesn’t just let a possible excess of vitamin D go as it would with water soluble vitamins (e.g. vitamin C and others), which means that there is a limit to how much vitamin D you can safely consume.
While too much of this good thing leads to vitamin D toxicity, that usually isn’t the problem, though – a much more common problem is not getting enough vitamin D.
So, how do we get our vitamin D?
The best way to get vitamin D is from sun exposure. Our skin converts ultraviolet rays or UVB into vitamin D and stores in the fat in our major organs, especially our liver and kidneys.
We can find foods with vitamin D too, and though they are not as plentiful or powerful they certainly do help, particularly in countries that don’t see too much of the sun during the winter.
So, the sun offers the best means of obtaining vitamin D naturally, and if you cannot get it from the sun, then getting it from foods rich in vitamin D is second best (primarily fatty fish, but there are other vitamin D rich foods too, more on that below).
Third best is taking vitamin D supplements (particularly those that also include some calcium). For some, a combination of all three is the way to go.
Vitamin D Levels
Whether we get enough vitamin D from the sun and from vitamin D foods or whether we have to take supplements, it all depends on the vitamin D levels in our body.
Like all nutrients, the levels have a normal range and anything above or below that are either toxic or deficient. Because vitamin D is lacking in most foods naturally and because people are not able to get enough sun exposure these days, there are more who are deficient than who are not. We should never take a vitamin D supplement without first having a vitamin D blood test done to see our exact levels.
Our bodies convert vitamin D into two forms, each form reacts differently. This is regardless of whether we obtain the nutrient from vitamin D foods, supplements or the sun.
The liver takes vitamin D and creates the bioactive version of vitamin D called calcidiol (25-hydroxyvitamin D a.k.a. 25-hydroxycholecalciferol). The kidneys convert vitamin D into the bioactive calcitriol (1,25-hydroxyvitamin D).
Actually, there’s also a (third) form of vitamin D called ergocalciferol (vitamin D2). This form is synthesized by plants. It’s fairly similar to the other versions, and our livers can convert ergocalciferol to the bioactive and useful calcidiol, so the plant based ergocalciferol is sometimes also used as a dietary supplement to treat vitamin D deficiency.
Each of these converted and thus bioactive substances works in the body to help create strong healthy bones, blood, muscles, and immune system. These substances also work with other nutrients to further aid the body in having a strong immune system, which is why it is so important that we maintain a healthy level of ALL nutrients within our body.
Know Your Levels through a Vitamin D Blood Test to Start
Vitamin D is vital and it is highly important to know where your body stands with your vitamin D levels.
If you are depressed, feel exhausted or you are sickly because your immune system is weak you may be deficient in spite of eating the right foods and basking in the sunlight. The best thing you can do is see your healthcare provider for a check-up (once a year, remember?) and have a test to check your blood levels.
So, regardless of whether or not you think you eat enough vitamin D foods each day or get decent sun exposure you should have a blood test to find out your levels. Not only will your healthcare provider check for vitamin D, but for other nutrients as well, since they all work together. You can get this tested at your annual health checkup. All you have to do is ask.
Two different blood tests check the levels of vitamin D in the body. The most common test is the 25-hydroxyvitamin D, which will test for the levels of vitamin D in the blood.
When testing for vitamin D a test for blood calcium is beneficial too, since both vitamin D and calcium work together. If you are low in one, generally speaking, you will be low in the other and vice versa. You want to maintain a healthy normal level, whether you get your nutrients from foods rich in vitamin D or supplements or from the sun itself.
Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms
If your body lacks enough of the vitamin D nutrient, if you don’t get enough sun exposure, if you do not consume enough foods with vitamin D you are at risk for a vitamin D deficiency.
The truth is if you live in an area too far north for decent sunlight (particularly in the winter) and if you do not care for seafood, you may experience a lack of vitamin D in your body. Alternatively, you may just live a busy life and are unable to be outdoors long enough each day to get the proper sunlight. Nature took care of providing us with vitamin D from the sunlight, but if we cannot find the time to get the sun, or we live where the quality of sunlight is poor, we may suffer from a deficiency in vitamin D – and many people do.
Ill Effects of Vitamin D Deficiency
One of the side effects of a vitamin D deficiency is depression. It is not that a deficiency in vitamin D “causes” depression but that it amplifies conditions that bring on depression.
Depression affects many people, whether it is caused from bad diets (you can bet depressed people do not eat enough vitamin D foods), environmental issues, heredity, or medication reactions.
Offering prescription depression medications is a booming business for the pharmaceutical companies, but maybe it didn’t actually need to be like that. Perhaps if people first sought to take care of their diets and give their body the nutrients it needs, depression might be less of a problem.
How to Cure a Vitamin D Deficiency?
So, if sunlight is so great for creating vitamin D in our bodies, are we to run around naked outside?
Well, that would certainly cure it, but it would probably land you in jail too (for ‘indecent exposure’), unless you do it in the privacy of your own garden or you live near a nude beach. Not too many of those around, sadly, and in lots of countries it will be way to cold during the winter to try it anyhow.
(The drawing to the right showing a naked man in the sun is by Carl Larsson, 1914).
If sun exposure is not feasible you can eat vitamin D foods to help replenish the body, most notably fatty fish (e.g. salmon, tuna and swordfish – more on that in a moment).
If you do not like the foods that are naturally high in vitamin D, try eating foods fortified with vitamin D (e.g. milk and other dairy products, which in several countries around the world have added vitamin D).
If you are opposed to those as well and you have a deficiency in vitamin D you may have to opt to take a vitamin D supplement.
However, it is always best to try first to get adequate sun exposure and/or add the right foods to your diet first.
Foods Rich in Vitamin D Is Better than Supplements
If you live in an area up north where the sun exposure is limited, or if you live in an area with a lot of pollution, cloud cover or rain, or you spend most of the day inside due to your work (getting your sunshine through a window does not work, because UVB radiation does not penetrate glass), you will probably not be able to get enough vitamin D from the sun. However, all is far from lost.
Even though absorbing the UVB through the skin is the best way to get vitamin D you can still obtain your daily requirement through the foods you eat, if you eat the right foods. Vitamin D is not in most foods though; it does not naturally occur in fruits and vegetables, for example.
Vitamin D is in (fatty) fish, organ meat (e.g. beef liver) and in some mushrooms. There is some in egg yolks, and a minor amount in cheese.
You can also find it added to foods during processing, so you can find foods fortified with vitamin D as well (e.g. milk (as well as infant formula), margarine, plus some brands of orange juice, yogurt and breakfast cereals).
The Best Vitamin D Foods
The best food sources of vitamin D are fish, like salmon, mackerel, cod (cod liver is excellent!), swordfish and tuna. Plus, to a lesser degree: sardines.
Beef liver, some mushrooms and egg yolks also contain some vitamin D, though not as much as the above mentioned fatty fish, and cheese contains an even smaller amount (like 20 times less than in salmon).
Some people do not eat enough fish to make it worth being their only means of obtaining vitamin D and certainly not on a daily basis. You can work around this by adding cod liver oil to foods (cod liver oil is perhaps the most powerful natural way to obtain vitamin D) and by reading labels and eating more foods fortified with vitamin D.
The fact that most people do not eat fish daily (or even weekly) is perhaps the biggest reason why people are so easily deficient in vitamin D. If you a vegetarian, you may not get enough, because as mentioned fruits and vegetables do not contain it.
Vitamin D Foods or Supplements?
If we face the facts, we need certain nutrients in order to be healthy. Without them, our bodies will start to fall apart and it opens the way for illnesses and diseases to come in and make us sick, sometimes even sick to death. By making sure we get the proper amount of nutrients every day we are arming our defenses against disease and illness by beefing up our immune systems.
If we cannot get the nutrients through natural means and diet, we should take supplements. To absorb them better, they work better in liquid form. Liquid vitamin D is better than vitamin D in a pill form, but vitamin D supplements with calcium are a good idea, too.
If your lifestyle is too busy to keep up with eating proper nutrition or you are not able to catch some good rays from the sun on a daily basis, you need to consider taking supplements to augment your diet and daily requirement of the proper nutrients (vitamins and minerals.)
Perhaps you do not like seafood, or you are allergic to dairy products. Perhaps you live in a smoggy city where the true rays hide behind a cloud of pollution. You need your supplements to stay healthy!
Recipes for Vitamin D Foods!
The best way, aside from sun exposure, to get vitamin D is to eat foods with vitamin D in them. So if you cannot carve out five to thirty minutes of sun exposure a day (if you live far enough south or away from polluted skies) and if you do not want to take supplements, as many people don’t, you need to eat it.
First, have a blood test so you will know your levels and if you are low, you can seek out recipes that include foods with vitamin D.
If you have a recipe using cod liver oil, you can grab your daily requirement of vitamin D foods in one meal, easy. Cod liver oil is very rich in vitamin D; a little goes a long way. A spoonful has more than you need for a healthy person in the daily-recommended dosage of vitamin D.
However, cod liver oil is not the only food with vitamin D naturally occurring.
As mentioned seafood, salmon mackerel, tuna and swordfish, and are foods rich in vitamin D too.
Not everyone likes seafood, and luckily many processed foods and dairy products are fortified with vitamin D these days.
Discover the foods that naturally contain vitamin D so if you do not get enough sun exposure you can at least attempt to eat the foods to keep your body’s vitamin D levels at a normal range.
There is no need for us to let our body’s get so run down that we are constantly running to the doctor. If we just eat right we can help our immune system stay strong. By eating right, we take in foods that contain optimum levels of the nutrients our body needs in order to be healthy and strong, including vitamin D. We can help to fight off debilitating illnesses by beefing up our immune systems.
Even if you are not able to get a hold of food with a high concentration of vitamin D you can still get your nutrients through supplements. Be aware though that nutrients work together. You do not need to self-diagnose (and you can’t) because only a blood test will show the true levels of the body.
You may suffer from a lack of calcium, but the issue may not be low calcium, but low vitamin D. If you replenish the vitamin D the body will be able to absorb the calcium. Other nutrients work together in similar manner. All nutrients have optimum levels needed to be healthy.
All Vitamin D Sources
Vitamin D comes from four areas actually, first being the sun, then vitamin D foods, then foods fortified with vitamin D then supplements. The very best source though is the sun. When the UVB rays strike the skin, it converts it to vitamin D. The liver and kidneys then process the vitamin D and it works within the body. Sunlight exposure, ironically, will never lead to an overdose of vitamin D. The body knows when to shut off when it has enough. The danger in sun exposure is skin cancer, so you want to avoid too much because of that.
If you wish to try to get your vitamin D from the sun and not so much from vitamin D foods, you need to make sure you have at minimum five minutes of sun exposure each day. You need as much skin to show as possible. No, you do not have to be completely naked, but it helps if your legs, arms, face and even your chest and back if possible can absorb the sun rays.
The maximum amount of sun exposure recommended for a healthy person is 30 minutes a day, generally speaking. This depends heavily on where you are, of course – a country near the Equator is very different from, say, Canada or Scandinavia in the winter). More exposure will not overload your vitamin D levels, but more exposure puts you at risk for sun damage to the skin.
Vitamin D Supplements instead of Vitamin D Foods?
Vitamin D supplements contain vitamin D, a fat-soluble nutrient. Fat-soluble means it stores in the fat in our body, mainly in the fat in our major organs and intestines.
Note that this does not mean that an obese person has a good supply of vitamin D. It does not store in the “bad” fat in our body. A really fat person is not healthy, so they may very well suffer from a vitamin D deficiency, which may actually be why they have retained so much body fat in the first place!
Vitamin D is stored in the fat in the “meat” of our body, and we get it from “meat” we eat not just any meat, but liver and fish. If we do not get enough sunlight or eat enough fish, we will need to take it in supplement form.
Vitamin D supplements offers a good alternative if we do not each enough vitamin D in our diet. Many people have to take this supplement (often together with calcium) to correct a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiencies are more plentiful than the opposite, overdose of vitamin D. (Though overdosing is possible and a few do get what is called vitamin D toxicity).
The supplement works to restore vitamin D levels in the body if the body is indeed deficient. If the body is not deficient in vitamin D, there is no need to take such a supplement. This is why it is so important to obtain a vitamin D blood test first: to be sure there is a deficiency.
Vitamin D Dosage Information
If you feel you must take a vitamin D supplement because you do not get enough sun exposure or eat enough vitamin D foods there are things you need to know about the dosage.
Our lifestyles keep us from doing all the things we need to do to keep healthy, like being in the sun, or eating a proper diet. Instead, we are so busy we barely have time to breathe. We need to make the time though to see our health care provider once a year to know our levels, so we will know what supplements we need to take. It is important to take a vitamin D supplement only if you are truly deficient in the nutrient.
At least if we are deficient in vitamin D it is extremely easy to get it. Whether we carve out some time to be in the sun each day if possible, or eat food with a lot of Vitmain D, or take it in supplement form.
With the availability of vitamin D supplements, there is no reason for anyone to fall deficient in it. If you do not eat much fish, cod liver oil or do not get in the sun each day, you should consider a vitamin D supplement (and only if you first have a vitamin D blood tests run).
When the levels come back, you and your healthcare provider can make a determination as to whether or not you need the supplement and if so how much to take.
Lack of Sun? Calcium with Vitamin D Supplements
Vitamin D supplements are the third best means of obtaining vitamin D. If you take a vitamin D supplement, it is beneficial to take it in conjunction with calcium. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium, which helps the body to have strong healthy bones. Without enough calcium and vitamin D the bones and muscles become weak.
(Again, before you take a vitamin D supplement, make sure to have a blood test to know for sure you are deficient. Chances are more of the population these days is deficient for lack of proper sun exposure and poor diet, though).
If you take multi vitamins, be sure to read the label, because you may be receiving vitamin D through this. You do not want to overdose on vitamin D either.
First, try to get your vitamin D from sun exposure and vitamin D foods. If a test shows you’re deficient. If you eat vitamin D foods, you should also eat foods high in calcium to help the body use the nutrients in the best manner to make you stronger and healthier. Or take calcium with Vitamin D supplements in order to work with the body.
Being Aware of Vitamin D Overdose Symptoms
Vitamin D is one of the most important nutrients for our body; it works with many other nutrients.
A deficiency in the nutrient leads to debilitating illnesses and conditions.
Because more are deficient than not, many will go ahead and take a supplement whether they actually need it or not. However, if you take it and do not need it you run a risk for a vitamin D overdose.
Before taking it make sure you are not getting enough from your food first. Vitamin D toxicity is equally as debilitating as a vitamin D deficiency, so you want to be aware of this when taking the supplements.
Hypervitaminosis D is the condition that occurs when we take in too much vitamin D from vitamin D foods or supplements. This is also called vitamin D toxicity. It causes calcification of major organs and blood vessels, which is not a good thing. This happens because vitamin D enables the body to absorb calcium. Therefore, if there is too much vitamin D present, then the body will absorb too much calcium.
This is very easy to avoid with a simple vitamin D blood test to check the level in the body. It all boils down to getting the nutrients from our environment (the sun) and our foods before taking supplements for optimum effects.
More information on Vitamin D and Vitamin D Foods
– EXTERNAL LINKS:
Health Link British Columbia – Food Sources of Calcium and Vitamin D (another list of foods rich in Vitamin D)
Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D from the US Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health
Health Link British Columbia – Food Sources of Calcium and Vitamin D (another list of foods rich in Vitamin D):
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases – Calcium and Vitamin D: Important at Every Age:
Technical article on Vitamin D on WikiPedia.org
The US FDA’s Daily Reference Values for nutrients for Adults (how much vitamin, minerals, fat, carbs etc. they recommend we consume each day)
Health Canada’s somewhat technical text on Vitamin D and Calcium: Updated Dietary Reference Intakes
A generally informative article on vitamins at New World Encyclopedia
A fairly brief generally informative article on vitamin D3 at Encyclopedia.com