Understanding Vitamin D, Why It’s Important to Your Health and How to Get Enough Of It
Vitamin D enables your body to absorb calcium—one of the principle building blocks of bone. Without proper stores of vitamin D in the body bone diseases such as osteoporosis or rickets may develop, not to mention challenges to the nervous, immune, and musculature systems. With heightened concerns about viruses in today’s world, focusing on ensuring we get enough vitamin D is one simple and natural way to boost our immunity.
There are three basic avenues for intaking vitamin D:
• through the skin
• from food
• from supplements
The human body forms vitamin D naturally after exposure to sunlight but given that too much exposure to the sun may lead to aging of the skin and skin cancer, getting vitamin D from additional sources is a wise approach.
Certain groups of people tend to need extra vitamin D:
• older adults
• breastfed infants
• darker skinned people
• those with conditions like liver diseases, cystic fibrosis, and Crohn's disease
• obese persons or those who have had gastric bypass surgery
If your vitamin D levels are low you may experience fatigue, depression, and muscle pain, to name just a few symptoms. Although this is something to address, being completely vitamin D deficient is much more serious.
When you have a vitamin D deficiency it becomes difficult for the body to maintain proper levels of phosphate and calcium. This causes the body to produce hormones that release the calcium and phosphate from the bones making them weak and soft.
And according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Investigative Medicine, “…deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased autoimmunity as well as an increased susceptibility to infection.”
The following are natural methods for vitamin D intake:
1. Spend time in the sun (possible best source).
What actually happens in the formation of sun-derived vitamin D in the body is this: Your skin hosts a type of cholesterol that functions as a precursor to vitamin D. When this compound is exposed to UV-B radiation from the sun, it becomes vitamin D. Sun-derived vitamin D may be the best source because it’s believed to circulate in the body twice as long as does vitamin D from food or supplements.
2. Consume fatty fish and seafood.
A 3.5-ounce serving of canned salmon can provides about half of the recommended dietary intake (RDI) of vitamin D although the content of vitamin D varies among seafood. Farmed fish, for example, provides less vitamin D than fish that is naturally caught.
Vitamin D rich seafood includes:
3. Eat mushrooms.
Mushrooms make their own vitamin D on exposure to ultraviolet light similar to the way humans do.
• Humans produce vitamin D3 also known as cholecalciferol.
• Mushrooms produce vitamin D2 or ergocalciferol.
As always, natural is best so strive to consume mushrooms grown in the wild as opposed to commercially grown. Wild mistake mushrooms, for example, provide close to 300% of your vitamin D RDI per 3.5 ounce serving. Though most mushrooms in the store are commercially cultivated, it is sometimes possible to buy mushrooms especially treated with ultraviolet light.
4. Make free-range/pasture-raised egg yolks part of your diet.
Free-range chickens produce a far higher quality yolk, providing up to 20% of your RDI for vitamin D because the chickens spend a good deal of time outside in the sun. Conventionally raised chickens are not allowed to spend time outdoors therefore the vitamin D content of their yolks is minimal, around 2% to 5% of your RDI.
5. Eat vitamin D fortified foods.
Food manufacturers often add vitamin D to the foods they produce since the vitamin is so necessary and few foods contain it.
You can find these commonly available vitamin D fortified foods at your market:
• orange juice
• some yogurts
• plant-based milks
6. Take a vitamin D supplement.
You will find vitamin D in two forms when purchasing a supplement: vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) from plants and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) from animals. It is generally believed that vitamin D3 from animals does a better job at raising and maintaining overall vitamin D levels, however, for vegans, ergocalciferol is a good option.
7. Use an ultraviolet lamp with UV-B radiation.
When skin is exposed to UV-B radiation from the sun it’s able to produce its own vitamin D and UV lamps mimic the sun’s action. Already used therapeutically to treat various skin conditions for a number of decades, these lamps are costly and have only recently begun to be marketed as an alternative to elevate vitamin D levels in the body.
If you consume a plant-based diet, there are two schools of thought on the ability of the vegan diet to provide enough vitamin D.
1. It’s not possible to get enough vitamin D on a plant-based diet unless you take supplements and manufactured fortified cereals and nut milks.
2. It is possible to get enough vitamin D on a plant-based diet as long as you eat enough mushrooms.
Says Chirag Shah MD, the co-founder of Accesa Labs, which offers vitamin D testing:
“Mushrooms are thought to make vitamin D from a molecule called provitamin D2 with the help of the sun…”
David Barbour, the co-founder of wellness company Vivio Life Sciences, agrees with Shah:
“There are two main versions of vitamin D; D2 [plant-based] and D3 is in animals. Living on a plant-based diet you should you eat mushrooms (UV light exposed mushrooms), fortified foods, and/or supplements,” Barbour said.
Aranow, Cynthia. “Vitamin D and the Immune System.” Journal of Investigative Medicine: The Official Publication of the American Federation for Clinical Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166406/.
Pointing, Charlotte , et al. “The Best Plant-Based Sources of Vitamin D.” LIVEKINDLY, 14 May 2021, www.livekindly.co/how-do-vegans-get-vitamin-d-from-food/.
“Vitamin D.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 June 2021, medlineplus.gov/vitamind.html.