What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that your body needs for many vital processes, including building and maintaining your brain function, immune system, and bone structure. Vitamin D is also a fat-soluble vitamin made by our bodies only when our skin is exposed to the sun. It’s considered an essential nutrient because the human body cannot make it on its own, without the assistance of sunlight, food, and/or dietary supplements. Over 85% of people have insufficient vitamin D levels, so we've compiled some effective ways you can increase your vitamin D levels, but first, we'll dig into the research.
Research on Vitamin D
From the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers examined the question of why some people were better protected from the infection than others and began to look at a possible role for vitamin D. The nutrient is known to contribute to a well-functioning immune system in a variety of ways, including defending the body from serious health issues including respiratory infections. A meta-analysis of 25 randomized controlled trials involving about 11,000 people concluded that giving daily or weekly vitamin D supplements reduced the risk of acute respiratory infections. In addition, studies have shown that countries farther away from the equator—where levels of the vitamin tend to be lower because of less sunlight—had higher COVID cases and worse outcomes than those closer to the equator. While there is a substantial body of research on vitamin D, the correlation to COVID and its overall health role—ongoing studies continue to explore its potential benefits, optimal dosages, and potential risks associated with Vitamin D supplementation.
8 Key Benefits of Vitamin D
Vitamin D offers several known benefits to the body due to its involvement in various physiological processes. Here are some of the key benefits of vitamin D and why you need it:
- Promotes Bone Health: Vitamin D plays a crucial role in calcium and phosphorus absorption, which are essential for maintaining healthy bones. It helps regulate calcium levels in the blood, promoting optimal bone mineralization and reducing the risk of conditions like osteoporosis, rickets (in children), and osteomalacia (in adults).
- Enhances Immune Function: Vitamin D plays a vital role in supporting the immune system. It helps regulate immune cell activity and enhances the function of immune cells, such as T-cells and macrophages. Adequate vitamin D levels have been associated with a reduced risk of infections, including respiratory tract infections.
- Supports Muscle Function: Vitamin D is involved in muscle function and strength. It helps maintain healthy muscle tissue and promotes proper muscle contraction. Sufficient vitamin D levels may contribute to improved muscle performance and reduced risk of muscle weakness and falls.
- Contributes to Cardiovascular Health: There is emerging evidence suggesting that vitamin D may play a role in cardiovascular health. It may help regulate blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and improve overall cardiovascular function.
- Supports Mental Health: Some studies have found associations between vitamin D deficiency and mental health conditions—adequate vitamin D levels may help regulate mood and support overall mental well-being.
- Supports Brain Health and Cognition: Vitamin D receptors are present in the brain, and research suggests that vitamin D may play a role in cognitive function and brain health. Some studies have linked vitamin D deficiency to an increased risk of neurodegenerative decline, but more research is needed in this area.
- Hormone Regulation: Vitamin D influences the production and regulation of various hormones in the body, including insulin, which is essential for blood sugar regulation. It may also play a role in reproductive health, as vitamin D receptors are present in reproductive tissues.
- Anti-inflammatory Effects: Vitamin D has been found to modulate inflammatory processes in the body. Adequate vitamin D levels may help reduce inflammation and contribute to a healthy inflammatory response.
It's important to note that the effects of vitamin D deficiency can vary depending on the severity and duration of the deficiency, as well as individual factors such as age, overall health, and lifestyle. If you suspect you have a vitamin D deficiency, it is best to consult with a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance.
What are the Best Sources of Vitamin D?
The best sources of vitamin D can be categorized into two main types: dietary sources and sunlight exposure. Here are some of the primary sources of vitamin D:
- Fatty Fish: Certain types of fatty fish are excellent natural sources of vitamin D. Examples include salmon, mackerel, sardines, and trout. These fish tend to have higher levels of vitamin D due to their fat content.
- Cod Liver Oil: Cod liver oil is derived from the liver of codfish and is a rich source of vitamin D. It has been traditionally used as a dietary supplement to provide vitamin D, as well as omega-3 fatty acids.
- Fortified Foods: Many foods are fortified with vitamin D to help address deficiencies. Common examples include fortified dairy products (milk, yogurt, and cheese), plant-based milk alternatives (soy milk, almond milk, etc.), breakfast cereals, and some types of orange juice. Be sure to check product labels to verify if they are fortified with vitamin D.
- Egg Yolks: Egg yolks contain small amounts of vitamin D. The concentration can vary depending on the diet and exposure of the chickens to sunlight. Pasture-raised or free-range eggs may have higher levels of vitamin D compared to conventionally raised eggs.
- Mushrooms: Some types of mushrooms, particularly those exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light, can synthesize vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol). Check for varieties like shiitake or maitake mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light during cultivation.
- Sunshine: Sunlight exposure is also an important source of vitamin D, as the skin can synthesize vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. The body produces vitamin D when ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from sunlight interact with a type of cholesterol present in the skin. However, the ability to produce vitamin D from sunlight depends on factors like geographical location, time of year, time spent outdoors, skin pigmentation, and the use of sunscreen. It is essential to strike a balance with sunlight exposure to avoid excessive UV radiation and the associated risks, such as sunburn and increased skin cancer risk. Many people have insufficient levels because they live in places where sunlight is limited in winter, or because they have limited sun exposure due to being inside much of the time. To get your daily vitamin D through sunlight, you need 10 - 15 minutes of direct sunlight daily, without wearing sunscreen. If you have dark skin, you likely need 2-3 times more time in the sun to make enough vitamin D.
- Supplementation: Vitamin D supplements are available in two types: vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). As we shared above, both are naturally occurring forms that are produced in the presence of the sun’s ultraviolet-B (UVB) rays—hence its nickname, “the sunshine vitamin”. For most people, the best way to get enough vitamin D is by taking a supplement because it is hard to eat and absorb enough through food alone, or be consistently exposed to sunlight. The Recommended Dietary Allowance for adults is 600 IU daily and for adults > 70 years, it is 800 IU daily. Be sure to consult with a healthcare professional for individualized advice on sunlight exposure and vitamin D intake.
It can be challenging to meet your vitamin D needs through diet alone, especially if you have limited access to sunlight or have specific dietary restrictions. In such cases, vitamin D supplements may be recommended by healthcare professionals to help maintain adequate levels. Procera offers several products to help boost your vitamin D levels such as Procera Protect and Procera Essentials Multivitamin which both include potent doses of Vitamin D in the ingredient formulation. Procera also offers a highly concentrated Omega-3 supplement and our Mega Mushroom blend that can help provide some additional support and key nutrients your body needs for optimal wellness and function.