By Meghana Kumar, MD

Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin | Chronicles in Health

Vitamin D has been a buzzword of sorts lately during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a vitamin that acts more like a hormone and has been implicated in all sorts of processes in the human body. Read on to find out why you should make sure to maintain normal levels of vitamin D and how to do so.

Vitamin D comes from two primary sources: food/supplements and sunlight (hence why it’s nicknamed the “sunshine vitamin”). This is activated by enzymes in the body, and activated vitamin D then helps to regulate calcium and phosphorus levels. So inadequate Vitamin D means that we lack some of the key building blocks for healthy bones.

A deficiency of vitamin D can lead to fatigue, weakness, poor balance, increased fall risk, bone pains, and, if prolonged and severe, can affect bone strength and even lead to bone fractures. As we get older and osteoporosis risk increases, it is especially crucial to maintain adequate vitamin D levels. It has also been linked to the body’s protection against infections, wound healing, and mood.

Fortunately, vitamin D deficiency, which can be checked by bloodwork, is typically easy to fix. Most experts recommend that adults get at least 600 IU of vitamin D per day. As you can imagine, vitamin D deficiency is particularly common in the wintertime when people spend less time outdoors in the sun. Here are some foods that are excellent sources of vitamin D:

-fish

-egg yolks

-mushrooms

-cheese, yogurt, milk

-fortified orange juice

-fortified cereals

However, for some people, dietary intake and sunlight exposure still are not enough. Before starting a vitamin D supplement, check with your doctor about what the appropriate dose, type, and route is. For example, people with kidney or liver impairment may need special formulations of vitamin D that are already activated. Someone with gastrointestinal problems may need a higher dose to achieve adequate absorption of the vitamin D. Vitamin D toxicity is possible, so you want to make sure not to overdo the supplements.

When you go to the pharmacy aisle, you will notice that vitamin D comes in two forms: D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol). D2 comes from plant-sources while D3 comes from animal sources. Most studies show that D2 and D3 are equally effective, though the source may be important to consider if you practice a vegan diet.  

Like any supplement, it’s important to discuss the details with your doctor. Though mineral and vitamin supplements are easy to obtain over the counter, the minutiae of dosing and formulation can have significant impacts on your body if not carefully supervised. So next time you’re in the pharmacy, take a good look at the supplement aisle and do your research before investing in a bottle!