Vitamin D: Sun vs. Supplements

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Is it better to get from the sun or from supplements? If you’re a dermatologist, the answer is easy: supplements.

The American Academy of Dermatology recently issued a position statement stressing the importance of getting enough vitamin D without overexposing yourself to -causing UV radiation from sunlight or tanning machines. They recommend getting vitamin D from supplements along with foods rich in vitamin D. There are not many foods naturally rich in vitamin D, but fatty fish and cod oil provide significant amounts. Vitamin D-fortified milk is also a good source.

There are plenty of good reasons to rely on supplements for your vitamin D. For one thing, supplements are the only sure way to get the higher amounts of vitamin D that new research shows is beneficial. Experts are recommending 1,000-2,000 IU a day, much more than most people would get through typical sun exposure. And even if you like a little bit of a tan, you probably don’t like the wrinkles and brown age spots that are the trademark of sun-damaged .

Supplemental vitamin D comes in two distinct forms: ergocalciferol (D2) and cholecalciferol (D3). Research has shown that supplemental D3 is more active in the body than D2. However, D2 is the form frequently used to fortify dairy products and is found in many supplements.

Vitamin D is way too important to be ignored. Deficiency is associated with a long list of problems: osteoporosis, muscle weakness, fractures, common cancers, lowered , cardiovascular disease, and problems. And is more common than many people, including doctors, realize. It’s estimated that more than half of children and adults in the U.S. aren’t getting enough. Don’t be one of them!

The Bottom Line:
While exposure to sunlight is a way to get vitamin D, overexposing yourself to the sun’s UV rays can age your skin prematurely and put you at risk for skin cancer. In any case, most people can’t get all the vitamin D they need from the sun and foods alone. Don’t let a vitamin D deficiency compromise your wellbeing. Be sure you get all the vitamin D you need by taking 1,000-2,000 IU a day of supplemental vitamin D3.

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21 responses to “Vitamin D: Sun vs. Supplements”

  1. Scott says:

    This is nice if you want to fight osteoporosis and some cancers, but detrimental to arteries. Excessive Vitamin D through supplements often leads to vascular calcification and ossification (bone forming in the arteries). It's disconcerting that so many physicians have prescribed full-fledged Vitamin D saturation in the body, without realizing its other effects.

    • Joshua says:

      Scott – Thanks for your comment. While we strongly recommend that most people supplement their diet with Vitamin D3, it's true we have heard of some people overdoing it. I was reading the “Q & A” section of a recent Vitamin D Council Newsletter and one person stated he was taking 60,000 IU per day, and had been for over 3 months. This is obviously too much and dangerously high. I'm curious, what amount of would constitute “excessive” in your opinion?

  2. Brian says:

    I'm taking about 6000 IU per day from supplements (5000 IU of Vitamin D3 and 1000 IU in my multivitamin). I also get some from food and natural sunlight. If I take a Vitamin D test, will it tell me if my levels are too high?

    • MaryJane says:

      are there any others ways to know besides taking a test for vitamin d deficiency, some symptoms?

      • Mina says:

        Since the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can be broad (fatigue, aches and pains, low immunity, etc.), the only reliable way to know if you are deficient is to get your blood levels checked. Also, some of the more serious health consequences of being vitamin D-deficient don't show up immediately, so it's probably wise to either get your levels checked or take at least a moderate amount of supplemental vitamin D as a precautionary measure.

    • Mina says:

      Dr. Cannell recommends that you supplement with vitamin D for around 2–3 months before you have a 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood test, and then adjust your dose so your 25(OH)D level is between 50–80 ng/ml (125–200 nmol/L) year-round. (You may need to do this test several times a year.) More info here: http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/health/deficienc…

  3. BethF says:

    This past winter was the first that I took Vitamin D, and I never experienced those cold-weather blues. Even though it's now warm out, I am continuing to take Vitamin D because I truly do believe that it helps.

    I really like the liquid vitamin D3 from Stop Aging Now.

  4. Josephmoss84 says:

    Vitamin D3 Supplements:

    NOW Vitamin D softgels supply this key vitamin in a highly-absorbable liquid softgel form. Vitamin D is normally obtained from the diet or produced by the skin from the ultraviolet energy of the sun. However, it is not abundant in food. As more people avoid sun exposure, Vitamin D supplementation becomes even more necessary to ensure that your body receives an adequate supply. Vitamin D3 Supplements on discount at NutroVita.com.

    For more details please visit:
    http://www.nutrovita.com/32760/now-foods/vitami…

  5. […] testing the effects of vitamin D supplementation on immunity in clinical trials. They report that daily supplementation with vitamin D3 reduces the incidence of seasonal flu (influenza A) by over […]

  6. Patricia Edie says:

    I always appreciate your reports, the best way to find out the latest on research and health.

    I have one question. You recomended dose on Vitamin D3 is 1000 to 2000 IU. Last time I ordered I got a free bottle of Vit. D3, 5000 IU. I did some research (and also as your report indicates) that suggests no more than 2000 IU or run the risk for potential side effects. So my question is, why give away sush a high amount of IU if it is potentialy harmful? I know for sure I am not going to take them, much less give them away.
    Thanks,

    Patricia Edie

    • CasieT says:

      Hi Patricia,

      We're glad you have found our reports helpful.
      Vitamin D intake tends to require personal assessment and your physician can run a simple blood test to see where you stand. If you are one of the millions of Americans that is low in circulating vitamin D, your physician will likely give you a prescription for Vitamin D that is 50,000 IU to be taken once a week. And no, thats not a typo. The prescription is for fifty thousand IU for vitamin D. After 8-12 weeks of that dose, she or she will likely recommend reducing your dose back down to 2,000-5,000 IU a day depending on how your body responded to the prescription. This actually happened to me when I tested very low for vitamin D and my physician approved my taking the 5,000 IU a day of Stop Aging Now's D3 instead of the prescription.
      The current UL for vitamin D is in fact set at 2,000 IU, however, that is currently under review. There is much anticipation regarding the new vitamin D guidelines since so many Americans are testing to have vitamin D levels that are far below adequate. The new 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans was just released and vitamin D intake was at the forefront. Only about 17% of woman meet their vitamin D needs which is a scary statistic when you consider its influence on bone and breast health.
      The American Journal for Clinical Nutrition released an urgent call to review the current vitamin D standards back in 2007 however given the time frames allotted for recommendation reviews, it has just recently hit the IOM's to-do list. You can read more about the urgency associated with this new review at: http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/85/3/649 and you can read about the steps being taken at the IOM at: http://iom.edu/Activities/Nutrition/DRIVitDCalc…

      Regarding the bottle you received, you are welcome to contact out customer service and request a new bottle of vitamin D of a different strength. Or you can take it to your physician and speak with him about your current vitamin D status and evaluate whether or not it would be a good option for you.

  7. Jim says:

    I have been taking Vitamin A for a month with no noticeable results. I took 3 pills of the Vitamin D 400 IU yesterday and today. My skin is oily for the first time I in many years. Is it possible for the Vitamin D to kick in that quick? And do I want my skin oily as opposed to my dry skin before?

  8. Josephmoss84 says:

    Vitamin D3 Supplement:

    NOW Vitamin D softgels supply this key vitamin in a highly-absorbable liquid softgel form. Vitamin D is normally obtained from the diet or produced by the skin from the ultraviolet energy of the sun. However, it is not abundant in food. As more people avoid sun exposure, Vitamin D supplementation becomes even more necessary to ensure that your body receives an adequate supply. Vitamin D3 Supplement on discount at NutroVita.com.

    For more details please visit:
    http://www.nutrovita.com/32760/now-foods/vitami…

  9. […] wisdom used to be that our bodies would produce enough vitamin D to keep us healthy by being exposed to sunlight. But as skin cancer became a concern, and more people started staying indoors more, our vitamin D […]

  10. […] health is still years away, and until we have more clear-cut guidelines, the best way to approach vitamin D supplementation is to work with your health care provider to have appropriate testing done and to receive […]

  11. […] health. He says that “until we have more clear-cut guidelines, the best way to approach vitamin D supplementation is to work with your health care provider to have appropriate testing done and to receive […]

  12. Cneighbors1 says:

    I have been taking a statin drug for nine months and my latest cholesterol level went from 252 to 199. Good? Maybe. For the first time in my 60 plus years my vitamin D was dangerously low at 5. My doctor put me on a regimen of 50,000 units of vitamin D once a week for 12 weeks. I am hesitant to continue taking the statin drug. Has anyone had this experience?

  13. Peter says:

    My mother, a nurse practitioner and one of the pioneers that was way ahead of the curve on vitamin d3, has long been a strong proponent of cholecalciferol (sun-based vitamin d), which for a long time was difficult to find in supplement form as most contained ergocalciferol. Granted that has all changed in recent years, and now there are a number of high quality cholecalciferol supplements on the market.

    She advises that sun is the best option when available, but that high-quality cholecalciferol supplements should be used when sunbathing is not an option.

    One of her most thorough articles on sun-based vitamin d (d3) can be found here: http://www.pamelaegan.com/articles/vitamin-d3-sunlight.htm

  14. […] that because of the importance of mental health in children and adolescents and the fact that vitamin D levels could be easily raised with supplements, it is appropriate to explore and assess this possible […]

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  16. […] “Vitamin D is way too important to be ignored. Deficiency is associated with a long list of problems: osteoporosis, muscle weakness, fractures, common cancers, lowered immunity, cardiovascular disease, depression and memory problems. And vitamin D deficiency is more common than many people, including doctors, realize. It’s estimated that more than half of children and adults in the U.S. aren’t getting enough.” – Gale Maleskey, MS, RD […]