What Is It?
Famously known as the “sunshine vitamin”, vitamin D is often associated with feelings of happiness. However, there is so much more to this essential vitamin than meets the eye. Actually, Vitamin D is not a vitamin at all, it is a ‘prohormone’, meaning that it is a substance that the body converts into a hormone. In this case, vitamin D is produced by the kidneys to help control blood calcium concentrations and helps support the immune system. Unlike other vitamins, only about 10% of our usable vitamin D comes from food sources. The rest of our vitamin D comes from sun exposure, which makes the winter months in northern climates challenging for many people.
In order to have the proper amounts of vitamin D, it is crucial to spend at least 10-15 minutes each day outside in direct sunlight. Products that block the sun’s natural rays such as sunscreen and sunglasses, do not allow the UV rays to come in contact with the skin to allow the proper conversion to occur within the body. When the UV rays of the sun hit the skin, there is a chemical reaction that occurs, producing cholecalciferol. The liver is then activated to convert the cholecalciferol into calcidiole, which is then converted by the kidneys into calcitriole which is the resulting product that is used by the body, and is what most doctors test when looking to measure vitamin D levels in the body.
What's the Difference with D2 vs. D3?
There are two forms of vitamin D, vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. These two forms of vitamin D come from different food or supplement sources. Vitamin D2 is the form used in most prescription medications. This form is not as easily absorbed by the body. Vitamin D2 is plant derived and generally comes from irradiated yeast or from mushrooms. This form of vitamin D has a weaker bind to the vitamin D binding protein in the body compared to its counterpart.
The superior form of vitamin D; D3, is found primarily in oily fish, egg yolks, fish liver oils, and even some plant-based forms such as algae and lichen. This is the form created in the body from sun exposure on the skin, making it much more bioactive than the other form of vitamin D. Some studies have even shown that D3 is 87% more effective in the body than D2!
Deficiencies and Benefits
Deficiencies in vitamin D are incredibly common. Overtime, these deficiencies can lead to a multitude of symptoms. Since vitamin D has such a strong role to play involving calcium concentrations in the body, it is not surprising that a deficiency in this prohormone can lead to bone weakness such as arthritis, tooth issues, osteoporosis, and slow healing of broken and damaged bones.
A study from Ohio University in 2017 discovered that supplementation with vitamin D3 repaired damage done to the heart and blood vessels caused by high blood pressure. It has also been shown in recent research that those who are deficient in vitamin D are more likely to develop prediabetes, gestational diabetes, and type 2 diabetes.
Vitamin D is also responsible for an efficient immune response. Individuals who are frequently ill and have slow recovery times are often low in vitamin D levels. When deficient for extended periods of time, autoimmune disorders may develop as well as some conditions with abnormal cellular growth and development. Vitamin D is one of the key nutrients needed in the body for gene expression to work optimally. Without adequate levels of vitamin D, it is possible for several different types of cancers to develop.2 Along with supporting a healthy and optimal gene expression, vitamin D has been shown to increase fertility and to help maintain a healthy pregnancy!4
Depression is probably one of the most well-known effects of a vitamin D deficiency. Since vitamin D is a prohormone, it has a strong impact on many different hormones and neurotransmitters. Research has shown that vitamin D can help to regulate levels of noradrenaline, norepinephrine, and dopamine. It also helps to protect the brain from serotonin depletion, leading to decreased feelings of depression, anxiety, and other mental and mood imbalances.
Although quite rare, excess in vitamin D can happen as it is considered to be a fat soluble vitamin that builds up within the body over time. When this does happen, calcium can build up within the body, causing hypercalcaemia. With hypercalcaemia, people often notice that they experience more thirst, confusion, nausea or constipation, headaches, or depression despite taking their vitamin D supplements.
How Much do We Need?
There is some controversy as to how much vitamin D a person should supplement with on a daily basis. This is because there are many different factors to consider. What is the current climate? How much sun exposure is the person getting on a daily basis? What is their dietary intake of vitamin D like? What are their blood levels of vitamin D? The Endocrine Society guidelines suggest supplementing with anywhere between 1,500-2,000 IU daily in order to restore healthy vitamin D levels when the blood tests show levels of 30 ng/Ml or less. The general recommendation for those who do not have a significant deficiency is between 400-800 IU daily.6 Be sure to discuss with your nutritional health expert or naturopath to see what proper levels of supplementation would be for you.
Vitamin D supplementation is crucial for the body’s overall health and vitality. This prohormone has significant impacts on health from mental and emotional health, to genetic health, to cellular and immune health. In Northern climates it is especially important to supplement with a good quality D3 since it depends so much on sunlight that most of us are not exposed to during the winter months. So be sure to grab yours today so you can carry around your own pocket full of sunshine!
What Is It?