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Vitamin D: A Quick Guide to the Sunshine Vitamin


Vitamin D became an interest of mine when my physician told me my levels were too low. Now, news of a vitamin D deficiency epidemic is topping the charts, and health experts are growing keen to the widespread need for more vitamin D.

What Is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin with hormone-like functions that plays several roles in the body. Vitamin D is unique in that the body is able to produce it when ultraviolet rays, specifically UVB, penetrate the skin. When these ultra violet rays come into contact with a compound in the skin called 7-dehydrocholesterol (a cholesterol precursor), this compound is converted to 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 (vitamin D3), the active form of vitamin D.

What Can Vitamin D Do for You?

Lots of things! Vitamin D has long been known as calcium’s trusty partner in bone maintenance, but it also has many other important functions. Its primary roles are:

  • Facilitating calcium absorption in the gut
  • Maintaining calcium and phosphate serums needed for various body functions
  • Promoting bone growth and remodeling by osteoblasts and osteoclasts (vital to maintaining bone integrity)
  • Protecting against rickets (in small children)

Research is also finding that low vitamin D levels may also be associated with:

  • Heart disease
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Poor immune function
  • Inflammation
  • Behavioral or mood changes
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Pregnancy complications

It’s a proven fact that vitamin D is essential for a long, healthy life. Remarkably, one study showed that vitamin D deficiency could increase your risk of dying by 26%.

Should You Take a Vitamin D Supplement?

Let’s just say vitamin D supplementation is highly recommended! Developing at staggeringly shocking rates are the numbers of men, women and children that are testing low for this critical nutrient. Many factors can compromise your body’s ability to produce vitamin D, including:

  • Air pollution
  • Living in a city (Tall buildings and large amounts of shade can reduce sun exposure.)
  • Geographic location (People living at latitudes 37 degrees north or south of the equator are more at risk for low D levels.)
  • Use of sunscreen
  • Seasons (We get more in the summer than we do in the winter.)
  • Being indoors a lot, or being homebound
  • Having a darker skin tone

Should Your Children Take a Vitamin D Supplement?

It is now estimated that children spend almost 55 hours a week indoors watching TV, playing on the computer or other portable device and texting. Add that to the hours they spend in school and the hours they spend sleeping, and you are left with very little sunshine time!

We are, unfortunately, becoming a sedentary society and over the years this has compromised the amount of vitamin D synthesized in our bodies. Additionally, as we have grown savvy about using SPF in sunscreens to prevent damage to the skin, we have reduced our kids’ exposure to the UV rays responsible for producing vitamin D. So it’s a good idea consider fortified foods sources and supplements for your children.

Food First: Good Sources of Vitamin D

Most of the vitamin D in the American diet comes from fortified foods since it is hard to find in natural food sources. Here are some of the best food sources of vitamin D:

  • Salmon, sardines and cod
  • Shrimp
  • Eggs (It’s in the yolk, so don’t opt for just egg whites.)
  • Fortified milk
  • Fortified yogurt
  • Fortified orange juice

Should You Worry About Taking Too Much Vitamin D?

For a number of years it was thought that too much vitamin D could be risky, however more recent studies are indicating that higher doses are quite favorable. With the vitamin D deficiency reaching epidemic proportions among Americans, and consequent health risks being associated, a red flag has been raised. It’s best to speak with your physician and find out your current levels of vitamin D. We advocate at least 2,000-3,000 IU a day of supplemental vitamin D3 for adults for optimum wellness.

Casie is Stop Aging Now’s Lead Nutrition Expert and a Certified Nutrition Counselor. Her mission? To help people make the healthiest choices possible along their path to optimal wellness.

Have a question about nutrition or supplements? Send Casie an email.

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Leave a Comment Below

23 responses to “Vitamin D: A Quick Guide to the Sunshine Vitamin”

  1. Elyssa says:

    I started taking Stop Aging Now's Vitamin D3 last fall, as did my son. We definitely had a reduction in colds as compared to the previous winter, and I strongly believe this is a direct result of Vitamin D3.

  2. Sue says:

    I load up on Vitamin D in the Winter months…I wasn't sick once last winter. I read recently that sunscreen can actually block Vitamin D from being absorbed into your body. Any advice for someone who wants to protect their skin and still absorb the natural Vitamin D provided by the sun?

    • CasieT says:

      Your body can actually produce quite a bit of vitamin D from just 15 minutes in the sun. So even when you're outside for brief periods you actually produce some. If you are at the beach or by the pool, wait 8-10 minutes or so before you lather up with SPF so your skin can still absorb some UVBs. Of course after that, it's important to protect your skin from too much sun exposure.

      • Louis says:

        It's far easier just to pop a vitamin D pill than getting outside in hot steamy weather in Texas…

        What about air pollution? Often times, I'd see comments from people across the nation and they thought they got plenty of sun during the summer yet they had low vitamin D level so it made me wonder if air pollution is really that bad where UVB can't get through? My family and I started taking more vitamin D last fall and obviously that worked much better than I had hoped for. First time in forever that I didn't get sinus infection over the past winter. No cold or flu. Only if doctors would take it more seriously… Majority of them are still living in the dark age when it comes to vitamin D and they refused to acknowledge it for some reason.

        • Joshua says:

          Louis – I agree with you 100%. Many times I bring up Vitamin D to my doctor and you get that “you're wasting your time and money” look. I take 5,000 IU every day as does my wife. Our kids all take about 2,000 IU. The entire family didn't get sick once this past winter! I try to share this “secret” with every one even though it's mostly just common sense at this point. The best part about Vitamin D is that it is so cheap and the pills as so small.

  3. Brian says:

    Casie, do you have any thoughts on whether it is safe to take 5000 IU per day of Vitamin D3? I've heard conflicting info on whether this is too high an amount if you're already getting some additional Vitamin D from fortified foods or natural sunlight.

    • CasieT says:

      Yes, it is certainly hard to get a solid answer on this. I know that after my vitamin D levels came back low, I was given a prescription for 50,000 IU/week! (yes, thats fifty thousand). I was asked to take this dose for 3 months. Of course I asked to take the 5,000 IU/day of D3 instead of the scrip and my doctor said that was fine. So clearly it's “safe” but I think it depends on the person.

      It's not even a situation of the traditional and alternative medicine worlds colliding, as it often is. RD's, Physicians and NDs alike are having trouble agreeing on this. Personally, I think 5,000 IU/day is fine for a period of time, especially if you are aware of your levels being low. However, it may not be necessary to take the amount everyday or even longer than 3-5 months. Often times people reduce their intake to 2000 IU once their vitamin D levels return to a desirable range. This can only be determined with a test provided by your health care professional. But there are many people who subscribe to the school of thought that higher doses of vitamin D (5,000 IU+), even in the summer, are beneficial- and they may be right. It really is a personal choice to be discussed on a case by case basis. Personally, I'm interested to see how this all unfolds over the next 5-10 years.

      • Brian says:

        Thanks, Casie! That's very helpful. I think I should take a Vitamin D test to see where my levels are at, since I'm not sure if I have low levels.

        • CasieT says:

          I highly recommend it! I must say, I was shocked! Between walking my dog, running 15-20 miles a week and just spending time outside, I didnt think I could possibly be low. But I was very wrong. Best of luck and let us know if you have any other questions!

  4. zal says:

    my opinion is this: if you're a roofer or landscaper…etc, then you do not need vitamin D3.
    if you live in florida or california and other places where sunshine is every day and you're at least 30 minutes outside continuously every day, you don't need to take vitamin D3.
    if you know that you'll be today outside for at least 30 minutes, don't take vitamin D3. But if it's cloudy and no sunshine, then take your D3.
    Dr.John Cannell suggests taking 5000 IU every 3 days. Probably it's ok to take it once a week if it's sunny 2-3 days.
    Fortified foods with vitamin D is non-sense, it's a gimmick. The food mafia jumps on a bandwagon, feeling the pressure…

  5. Jeff says:

    I just went to my Dr. for my annual checkup. He started me taking 5,000 IU a day. I ordered the Stop Aging Now Vitamin D3 and take the 2,000 IU pill twice a day. The rest I'm getting from my Multi

  6. gailselah says:

    As an RN I am interested in health. I've watched the research over recent years on Vit. D and have been promoting supplementation of it to my family and friends. When my husband had his annual physical with blood work done, I asked the doctor if he would check my husband's Vit. D level. It came back “deficiency”…not just low, but an actual deficiency. My husband and the doctor were shocked. I was only a bit surprised. The doctor put my husband on 2,000 units a day, and now routinely tests all patients when they come in for their physical exam.
    Thank you for the very important health news and advice that Stop Aging dispenses regularly.
    I continue to look to you for future counsel.

  7. april says:

    I was sick all the time and after taking vitamin d for several months asked my Dr. to check my level, he felt I was wasting my time and didn't need that lab, well it came back only 13! He put me
    on 50,000 units of d from prescription which is d2, not d3, the d3 is better absorbed per the vitamin d council and after 3 months rechecked my labs still low, so I was put on 50,000 units 3 times a week and rechecked
    again this time I got up to 50 [optimal healthy level per vitamin d council 50-70] anyway I now take 2,000 units d3 a day. I am not getting sick now.
    I had my newphews and sisters vit d level checked and they were told they were fine I asked them to get the actual number and they were 29, and 30, this is not fine per vitamin d council, you want optimal health not lowest end of normal. Please get the numbers and copies of your labs. Also if you are overweight you need a little more vitamin d as its stored in your fat.

  8. april says:

    Oh here are vitamin d in higher level vitamin d foods:
    egg yolk 24 units
    fortified milk 1 cup 100 units
    fortified oj 1 cup 100 units
    salmon 1 oz 140 units
    herring 1 oz 246 units
    obese need 2 times vitamin d as someone of normal weight, as vitamin d gets trapped in their fat and is harder to use this is what I have read.
    I posted earlier but just looked up the food values of vitamin d.
    Oh and I read to use lab cor for your vitamin d testing, that they were recommended as highly accurate.

  9. april says:

    My nephew had vitamin d level of 29 and works outside all day, and coaches sons football outside in sun and we live in Arizona, the only way to know for sure is to check your lab work, my sister was 30 level and she is in/out all day but a housewife.
    Well I'm going back to bed. This is just too important and issue not to have your levels checked.

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  14. Peter says:

    The article is spot-on. Those elements within the FDA and the government that downplay the significance of Vitamin D are performing a grave disservice to the population.

    My mother, a nurse practitioner, has had me on a D3 regimen for four or five years now.

    Anyway, kudos and keep up the great work.

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