Jamie Sculley, ND
The Important Role of Vitamin D for Our Health
Updated: May 1, 2020
The Role of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that our bodies create from a cholesterol compound when UV light from the sun hits our skin. Here in the Pacific Northwest we're at a latitude where we may not be exposed to enough sunlight for adequate vitamin D production so getting it in the diet and from supplements is important.
Vitamin D isn't found in many foods unless they are fortified. Food sources include fortified orange juice and milk, fatty fish including salmon, herring and sardines, fish liver oils, butter and eggs.
Vitamin D plays a role in many of our body systems and diseases including:
Osteoporosis - because of its role in calcium absorption, vitamin D is important for maintaining healthy bone density. Getting enough vitamin D and having strong bones reduces the risk of falls and fractures in the elderly and can prevent and treat osteoporosis when taken with calcium and other minerals.
Psoriasis - oral and topical vitamin D may be effective for treating skin cell over-proliferation that's involved in psoriasis.
Cardiovascular disease - adequate levels of vitamin D may reduce blood pressure and inflammatory markers of cardiovascular disease.
Diabetes - vitamin D may improve insulin sensitivity and increase insulin production so that less blood glucose hangs out in the blood stream and more gets into cells for energy production. This means less damage to the arteries as well.
Immunity - vitamin D is also important for immune function specifically for T-cells that control other aspects of our immunity.
Seasonal depression - vitamin D supplementation may improve mood changes associated with less sunlight exposure during the winter especially along with light therapy.
The Difference Between D2 and D3
If you are getting vitamin D from supplements you'll find there are two types: D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol). D2 is formed in plants and D3 is formed in animals including humans. Studies have shown that D3 raises our blood levels of vitamin D better than D2 so unless you're a vegetarian, going with D3 to get your blood levels up is a good idea. Take vitamin D with a meal containing fat or as a capsule that contains oil to aid absorption.
What Are Optimal Ranges for Vitamin D?
Levels above 32 ng/mL are considered adequate, but the Vitamin D Council recommends 40-80 ng/mL as optimal for health. Blood levels of 100-150 ng/mL or more are considered unsafe and can lead to toxicity symptoms. Many of the symptoms of vitamin D toxicity are due to the high blood levels of calcium that occur. These can include: headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, weakness, dry mouth, and confusion. Bone pain can occur because vitamin D interferes with the activity of vitamin K, leading to bone mineral loss.
How Much Vitamin D Should You Take?
Because vitamin D is fat soluble, the body can store excess amounts. There is a potential for toxic levels to build up in the body if large amounts are taken for a long time. Common dosage ranges are 1,000 - 2,000 IU/day but a dose up to 4,000 IU/day is considered a safe amount. I'd recommend having your blood levels tested if you are taking more than this long term.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that's formed in our skin from sunlight. It's found in fortified foods as well as fish, eggs, butter and fish liver oils. It's involved in osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, psoriasis, diabetes, immune function and seasonal depression. Vitamin D2 and D3 are two forms of this vitamin and D3 may be better utilized by our body. An optimal range for health is considered to be between 40 - 80 ng/mL by the Vitamin D Council. Blood levels higher than 100 ng/mL can indicate toxicity and symptoms include headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, weakness, dry mouth, confusion and bone pain. Common dosage ranges are 1,000 - 2,000 IU/day but a dose up to 4,000 IU/day is considered a safe.
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Brignall, Matthew, and Monica Hsu. “Diet and Nutrient Therapy 1.” 2011, Bastyr University.
DynaMed [Internet]. Ipswich (MA): EBSCO Information Services. 1995 - . Record No. T114491, Vitamin D Intake and Supplementation; [updated 2018 Dec 04, cited 2019 Oct 15]. Available from https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114491. Registration and login required.
Heaney, Robert P. “Vitamin D in Health and Disease.” Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology : CJASN, American Society of Nephrology, Sept. 2008, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18525006.
Trang, H M, et al. “Evidence That Vitamin D3 Increases Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D More Efficiently than Does Vitamin D2.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 1998, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9771862.