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6 Proven Health Benefits of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is different from other vitamins in that it actually functions like a hormone in your body. Interestingly enough, nearly every cell in the body has a receptor for vitamin D! (1) It is essential to good health and effects everything from your bones, to your brain, to your heart, to your immune system. It’s been called the “sunshine vitamin” because your body can make it from sunlight! Let’s look at the proven health benefits of Vitamin D that are backed up by research.

health benefits of vitamin D

Vitamin D Health Benefit #1

Vitamin D Promotes Healthy Bones: D3 plays a huge supporting role in the absorption of calcium and other minerals important for bone strength.

Vitamin D helps your body regulate and absorb the calcium from your diet, along with maintaining the level of phosphorus in your blood (2). These nutrients are crucial to maintaining the strength and health of your bones. Without vitamin D, much of the calcium that you eat would not be absorbed and would end up being excreted by the kidneys. This is why a lack of vitamin D in the body can lead to poor bone density or osteoporosis in older adults. 

Vitamin D Health Benefit #2

Supports Healthy Immune System: D3 turns on key peptides in the body responsible for a healthy immune response.

Vitamin D regulates the expression of thousands of genes in the body which fire up your immune system into gear to fight bacteria and viruses. Vitamin D induces and antimicrobial peptide gene expression so your body can effectively fight infections (3). Keeping your vitamin D levels in a healthy range has been shown to reduce the risk of contracting the flu, colds, and other respiratory infections (4, 5, 6, 7). In fact, it is theorized that 5,000 IU/day doses of vitamin D may prevent colds and the flu, and higher doses may be helpful in treating full-blown flu patients (8).

Vitamin D Health Benefit #3

Vitamin D Supports Healthy Brain Function: D3 supports the growth of new brain cells, playing a big role in brain development and function, as well as, a mood boost.

The human brain contains receptors for Vitamin D, many of which are located in areas of the brain that are linked to depression (9). Vitamin D is known to help with the release neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, which relieves feelings of depression. One study of adults who supplemented with high doses of vitamin D (4,000 IU/day) experienced an improvement in their depression symptoms after only 2 months (10). 

Vitamin D greatly affects brain function as well. Animal studies have shown that Vitamin D supports “neurogenesis” which is the formation of new brain cells (11). Higher vitamin D levels in the body is associated with better short-term and working memory  (12), and reduced risk of cognitive impairment that comes with aging or following a stroke (13). Vitamin D regulates the enzymes in the brain that are involved in neurotransmitter synthesis and nerve growth, and research suggests that vitamin D protects the neurons in the brain from damage (14). 

Vitamin D Health Benefit #4

Vitamin D Maintains Healthy Blood Sugar Levels: D3 maintains healthy blood glucose levels that are already within the normal range.

There is an abundance of vitamin D receptors in the cells of the body which regulate blood glucose. One study found that when obese adults (who were at risk for type 2 diabetes, but did not have diabetes) took a daily Vitamin D supplement (2,000 IU), their blood glucose levels and insulin secretion from the pancreas improved (15). This shows a potential for Vitamin D to play a role in slowing down the progression from pre-diabetes to diabetes in obese adults. In another study, adults with diabetes supplemented with 1,000 IU of vitamin D per day, after which their fasting blood sugar, hemoglobin A1c, insulin resistance, waist circumference, and body mass index all decreased (16).

Vitamin D Health Benefit #5

Vitamin D Supports Respiratory Health: D3 is a breath of fresh air in supporting healthy respiratory and healthy lung function.

A lack of Vitamin D can contribute to poor respiratory health and lung function. A 2018 Australian study found that respiratory illnesses (such as asthma and bronchitis) were more common in people with low levels of vitamin D (17). Likewise, the researchers found that those with high levels of vitamin D had better lung function. One study found that patients with COPD improved their respiratory muscle strength and could exercise longer after supplementing with vitamin D (18). Further research shows that vitamin D helps to reduce airway inflammation, which explains why low levels of vitamin D are linked to increased risk of asthma attacks and vitamin D supplementation reduces the rate of asthma exacerbations (19).

Vitamin D Health Benefit #6

Vitamin D Promotes Heart Health: D3 doesn’t skip a beat to protect the heart and supports healthy blood vessels and cardiovascular muscles.

Heart disease is the #1 killer in America, so this is a very important health benefit of vitamin D. The heart and blood vessels in the body host several vitamin D receptors, which rely on optimal levels of vitamin D to properly function (20). Vitamin D prevents an excessive buildup of proteins that raise blood pressure and stiffen the arteries (21). Studies have found that low levels of vitamin D increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and clogged arteries (22, 23, 24).

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient, packed with important health benefits, but the reality is… people don’t get enough of it.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine that nearly 1 billion people worldwide have insufficient levels of Vitamin D, which can put your health at risk. 

Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency:

If the level of vitamin D in your body is too low for an extended period, you may experience muscle weakness, bone loss, and fractures. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes, non-Alzheimer’s dementia, and high blood pressure (25, 26, 27, 28). This is why it is important to keep your vitamin D levels up! 

Vitamin D deficiency is a big problem, so the question is: How do we get Vitamin D in the first place?

Three ways to get your Vitamin D:

1. Get vitamin D from the sun exposure

Exposing your skin to the sun is widely considered the best way to get your vitamin D. Energy from the sun turns a chemical in your skin into vitamin D3, where it can be used by your body. In order to get enough vitamin D from the sun, you should expose bare skin (arms and legs without sunscreen) to strong sun (UVB rays) for 15-30 minutes a day. 

However – this is not easy for most of us. Depending on where you live, the weather, and the time of year, you may not be able to get this much quality sunlight on a daily basis. And, if you live above 37 degrees north or below 37 degrees south of the equator, you likely won’t produce any vitamin D from the sun during the winter. This is anyone north of San Francisco and Philadelphia in the U.S. (29). Also if you wear sunscreen or have darker skin tone, you won’t produce as much vitamin D from the sun and it could take much longer. This is also the case for older people. 

2. Get vitamin D from the right foods

It can be difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone, as there are not many foods that contain an amount significant enough to give you benefits. Here are the approximate amount of vitamin D that you’ll get from these foods considered good sources:

Wild Salmon: One serving of wild salmon (3.5 ounces) provides about 988 IU which makes it one of the best food sources! However, the amount of vitamin D varies greatly per fish and it is very important to choose wild salmon (and not farmed salmon). Farmed salmon only provides a meager 250 IU of vitamin D per serving.

Cod Liver Oil: You’ll get about 450 IU per teaspoon. Cod liver oil is also a good source of vitamin A, however it is so high in vitamin A that you need to regulate how much cod liver oil you eat to avoid vitamin A toxicity. This can make it difficult to get enough vitamin D from cod liver oil alone. 

Egg Yolk (pasture-raised): Conventionally raised egg yolks contain about 18–39 IU of vitamin D each, however, yolks that come from pastured hens can contain 4 times this amount! Still, most people do not eat more than 2 eggs per day, so you would be unlikely to gain enough vitamin D from eggs alone. 

Canned Light Tuna: Each serving (3.5 ounces) contains about 236 IU of vitamin D. Keep in mind that canned tuna can be high in mercury, so most experts advise eating tuna no more than a few times per month. 

Fortified foods: These are packaged foods that are fortified (supplemented) with extra vitamin D – but they are almost always heavily processed foods that I wouldn’t recommend eating. Also, the type used is almost always Vitamin D2, which is not the more bioavailable form and not considered by health experts to be suitable for fortification. You’ll often find vitamin D2 added to fortified milks, drinks, and cereals in the U.S.

Wild Mushrooms: This is widely considered the best vegan food source of vitamin D, yet they need to be wild grown mushrooms and not the commercial varieties which are often grown inside. Wild mushrooms get their high vitamin D content from sun exposure and can be found at specialty markets and some farmers markets. Wild mushrooms can contain up to 2,300 IU per 3.5 ounce serving (about 1 cup chopped) serving.

3. Get vitamin D from supplements

As you can see, unless you eat a significant amount of eggs, fish, and seafood, you likely aren’t getting the benefits of vitamin D from your diet. Likewise, if you aren’t spending significant time outside in direct sunlight each day, you also are not getting the benefit of the “sunshine vitamin”. This is why vitamin D supplements are so popular and crucial for good health. That being said, not all supplements are created equally. 

Know the two forms of Vitamin D: Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3

Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol): This type is found in wild mushrooms, fortified foods, and some supplements. Vitamin D2 is less effective at raising the level of Vitamin D in the body. 

Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol): This type is found in oily fish, seafood, egg yolks, and some supplements. This is also the type that your body makes from sunlight. Vitamin D3 is more effective at raising vitamin D levels in the body, so it is the preferred type. 

What is a healthy level of Vitamin D in the body?

When you take vitamin D, it takes time for the level in your body to increase (it may take weeks or months) but it is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be stored in your body for a long time. You can find out the level of Vitamin D in your body by requesting a simple blood test from your doctor. You can also order a vitamin D test kit to check your levels from home. It is generally believed that blood levels of vitamin D that are above 30 ng/ml are sufficient and 50 ng/mL to 70 ng/mL is considered optimal to experience the health benefits (30, 31). You should aim for having your levels checked every 2-3 months to see if you are on the right track.

How much Vitamin D should you take per day? What’s the best dose?

If you know that you are already deficient in Vitamin D (most of us are) then you need to increase your dose until your level is brought up. To maintain already healthy vitamin D levels in the body, the Institute of Medicine recommends 400 to 800 IU of vitamin D daily (10-20 micrograms), however, many health experts believe this amount is far too low, especially if you don’t spend significant time in the sun. It is safe and effective for most people to take a daily vitamin D supplement in the range of 1,000 to 4,000 IU (25 to 100 micrograms). Studies have found daily supplementation of 2,000 IU per day sufficiently raises the vitamin D in the blood to the target of 30 ng/mL of vitamin D (32). If your vitamin D levels do not increase with this dosage, your healthcare provider may recommend a specific dose to meet your needs.

Can you take too much Vitamin D? Can it be toxic?

It is very, very rare for someone to experience Vitamin D toxicity, which causes dangerously high levels of calcium and phosphates in the blood. This can only happen when someone takes vitamin D supplements in extreme excess, as you can not overdose on vitamin D from sun exposure. There are a handful of toxicity cases in people who have supplemented with very high doses of vitamin D (over 50,000 IU) every day for an extended period of time (33). Research shows that taking up to 10,000 IU/day is safe and does not cause toxicity and most supplements contain far less than this. Yet, it is best to stick with the recommended dosage levels of 1,000 to 4,000 IU per day, as amounts in excess are generally unnecessary. 

Possible side effects from taking Vitamin D?

Most people do not experience negative side effects from taking Vitamin D, but like any other vitamin supplement, it’s recommended that you discuss it with your healthcare practitioner. This is especially true if you suffer from health conditions such as kidney problems, high blood pressure, heart disease, lung diseases, or any other chronic condition. If you are taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications, they may interact with vitamin D, such as:

  • Corticosteroids
  • Diabetic medications
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Seizure medications
  • Calcium supplements
  • Antacids

Is it necessary to take Vitamin D with Vitamin K?

As mentioned above, one of vitamin D’s great benefits is its ability to help your body absorb calcium. The vitamin K2 steps in to move this calcium to the right places in your body and keeps it out of places that it shouldn’t be – like your arteries. Without K2, excess calcium may get directed to soft tissues where it may be harmful. If you are taking vitamin D in very large doses this may be an issue (34), which is why many experts recommend also taking a vitamin K2 supplement if you are taking a lot of vitamin D. Others argue this isn’t necessary when taking moderate doses of vitamin D. 

There are some companies marketing Vitamin D supplements with added Vitamin K to prevent the risk of Vitamin D Toxicity, which may lead to calcification and hardening of the arteries. However, according to research, Vitamin D Toxicity has been observed in people who take 60,000 IU of Vitamin D per day over the course of several months. Most supplements fall within the recommended range of only 2,000 IU per day, which is far less than the amount shown to cause issues. 

Is it helpful to take Vitamin D with Magnesium?

Magnesium aids in the activation of vitamin D so it can be used by the body (35). In fact, some experts argue that without magnesium, vitamin D isn’t beneficial. One study found that people who consume a lot of magnesium are less likely to have low vitamin D levels (36). You can get magnesium from good sources like almonds, avocados, spinach, pumpkin seeds, whole grains, cashews, and clean magnesium supplements.

How to look for a good Vitamin D Supplement:

  • Get the best form: There are two types of vitamin D. Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (ergocalciferol) process differently in the liver, and D2 is less effective at raising the level of Vitamin D in the body. Check the label and choose those made with D3. 
  • Know the source: Some Vitamin D3 supplements are made from the grease found in sheep’s wool. They extract lanolin using a scouring process, and then wash it in detergent and put it through a series of saponification processes. Another better option is plant-based vitamin D3 that is taken from lichens. Lichen is a plant that absorbs vitamin D from the sun and passes it onto us. It is a 100% vegan and vegetarian suitable Vitamin D3 product, yet it is much more expensive to produce than other options. 
  • Avoid additives: Some Vitamin D supplements are filled with many unnecessary additives that may do more harm than good. This is especially important when it comes to a supplement that you take daily. Always read the ingredient list to see what you are consuming. 
  • Check the dose: Ensure that it contains between 1,000 to 4,000 IU (25 to 100 micrograms) of vitamin D, as this is the daily dose that most experts recommend. Some supplements and multivitamins have very low levels of vitamin D. You need to make sure that you are getting enough. 
  • Choose organic: USDA Certified Organic also does not contain any GMO ingredients.
  • Avoid toxic heavy metals and glyphosate: Ensure your supplement is third-party tested for traces of mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, and glyphosate. These are linked to serious health problems like cancer and neurological disorders. 
  • Ditch the capsule: There’s no absorption-benefit to taking Vitamin D3 in a capsule, and the capsule itself may contain ingredients you don’t want to consume daily. Look for vitamin D3 in uncoated tablet form that is easy to swallow (or even toss into a blended smoothie). 

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These statements have not been evaluated by FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

As with any dietary supplement, you should discuss with your healthcare professional prior to use. If you are breastfeeding, pregnant, or considering pregnancy, you should consult your healthcare professional prior to taking any supplements. Discontinue use and contact your healthcare professional if you experience any side effects or an allergic reaction. Keep out of reach of children.



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One response to “6 Proven Health Benefits of Vitamin D

  1. It seems important to know that vitamin D can help to regulate blood glucose, release dopamine and serotonin, and fight bacteria in your immune system. My mom and I are wanting to find some natural ways to boost our immune systems this winter. I might have us look into finding IM vitamin shots in Salt Lake City, UT to help.

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