We’ve heard about the importance of vitamin D even more than usual over the last year. The “sunshine vitamin” is made naturally in the skin from exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. So does that mean that, with the dark days of winter behind us for now, we are automatically getting enough to avoid vitamin D deficiency? Not necessarily.
The “Sunshine Vitamin” Fine Print
The amount of vitamin D you generate due to sun exposure varies greatly depending on where you live, your skin color, the amount of sun exposure, the time of day, and how long you spend in the sun. It’s important to know that wearing sunscreen interferes with vitamin D production, though that’s no reason to risk getting a sunburn! The process also becomes less efficient with age.
Top Vitamin D Foods
Many foods contain vitamin D, so you can get some vitamin D from your diet. Fatty fish (think salmon), mushrooms, egg yolks, and liver all contain small amounts of vitamin D. One egg yolk offers up about 40 IUs of vitamin D – but since the RDA is 600 IUs, sunshine and supplements are still your best bet.
Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency symptoms in adults are often subtle and easy to miss. These can include mood changes such as depression, muscle weakness, aches or cramps, bone pain, and fatigue. A more obvious sign is weak immune function, such as frequently catching colds or the flu.
Vitamin D Benefits
Vitamin D3 helps your body absorb calcium, and the two nutrients work together to help you maintain healthy bones and teeth. Vitamin D3 also helps your muscles, nerves, and immune system work properly. It helps white blood cells recognize foreign invaders and may also influence the release of protective proteins when needed.
Moreover, vitamin D3 protects neurons to promote healthy cognitive function. This nutrient is in a class of its own, with receptors everywhere in the body – including the muscles and heart – a hint that it plays a role in many more physical functions than we know.
How much vitamin D do you need per day?
The recommended daily intake of vitamin D3 for children or adults between 1 and 70 years is 600 IU per day. For people over 70 years of age, 800 IU per day is recommended.
What’s the difference between vitamin D and vitamin D3?
Vitamin D supplements come in two forms, natural D3 (cholecalciferol) and synthetic D2 (ergocalciferol). Vitamin D3 is more easily absorbed than D2 and lasts longer in the body.
Should you include vitamin D supplements in your routine
If any of the following apply to you, check in with your naturopathic doctor or medical doctor – they can test for vitamin D in your blood to see if you need to up your intake – and by how much:
- A personal history of low levels of vitamin D
- Lack of sun exposure, due to inclement weather or shift work
- Living in a northern climate
- Adults over 50, since age decreases the body’s ability to make vitamin D3
- Vegetarian or vegan diet
- Darker skin tone
Vitamin D3 Supplements
If, for any reason, you’re not getting sun exposure, add a vitamin D supplement to your routine.
Look for a liquid or softgel vitamin D supplement (because vitamin D is absorbed best in the presence of fat), and double check that you’re getting D3 and not D2. For people following a plant-based diet, rather than take D2, seek out vegan D3 sourced from lichens.