The necessity for vitamin D is unquestioned. Vitamin D is essential for strong bones, and good overall health. Without vitamin D, bones can become thin, brittle, or misshapen. Vitamin D is also needed for regulation of proper cell growth, immune function, and reduction of inflammation.
Though, like all things, the key to healthy intake of vitamin D is balance. Despite the requirement for vitamin D, and the importance it serves, too much vitamin D can lead to side effects. Are you getting enough Vitamin D, or perhaps too much?
The 3 Sources of Vitamin D
The daily recommended intake of vitamin D is between 600-800 international units (IU) per day. Here are the various ways your body can absorb it.
The sun is an excellent source of how to get vitamin D, and most people meet at least some of their Vitamin D needs through exposure to sunlight (1). Interestingly, sun exposure is just the first step in the vitamin D production process. Once our skin receives sunlight, vitamin D is then produced through synthesis.
How much basking in the sun will suffice your vitamin D needs? Vitamin D research suggests that approximately 5-30 minutes of sun exposure, twice a week will do the trick. Ideal sun exposure occurs between 10am-3pm, and is recommend to reach the face, arms, legs and back (1).
Vitamin D is supplied by a select source of foods.
Fatty Fish accounts for the highest supply of vitamin D among food sources. Salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, and liver oils are common sources of vitamin D. 3 ounces of cooked salmon has more than 450 IU’s (2).
In the 1930’s a milk fortification program was implemented in the United States to combat rickets (1). Today, fortified dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese, and butter provide vitamin D. Other vitamin D fortified foods include some brands of orange juice and cereals (2).
Organ meat of livestock may not sound very appetizing, though it is a rare source of vitamin D. Beef liver, pork liver, chicken liver and lamb liver all fall into this category(4). Additional food sources of vitamin D are eggs and sundried mushrooms.
A variety of vitamin d supplements are readily available in health food, and nutrition stores. Vitamin D3 is the suggested classification because it is more bioavailable for your body (3).
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Despite the vast amount of vitamin D provided by the sun, deficiencies exist due to several causes, including the following:
Limited Sun Exposure
A lack of sunlight may exist in people who are homebound, live in northern latitudes, wear long robes or head coverings for religious reasons, or work in an occupation with limited sun exposure.
Dark skin contains greater amounts of the pigment melanin, which in turn limits the skin’s ability to absorb vitamin D through sunlight.
As people age, the skin’s ability to synthesize vitamin D decreases. People 65 and over generate only one-fourth of the amount vitamin D as they could in there 20’s (1).
Individuals with a body mass index above 30 are prone to low vitamin D levels. Obesity does not affect the skin’s ability to synthesize vitamin D. However, vitamin D is stored in fat, and excesses amount of fat will sequester vitamin D and alter the flow of circulation (1).
Conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, liver disease, Chron’s disease, celiac disease, and cystic fibrosis may hinder the absorption of vitamin D, leading to deficiencies (2).
Due to limited food sources of vitamin D, you may not be meeting suggested intake levels. This effect may be higher in those with a lactose intolerance, or strict vegan diets.
Symptoms Of Vitamin D Deficiency
People with vitamin D deficiencies may have no symptoms or can potentially go years without experiencing symptoms. Symptoms of vitamin D can mirror those of other health conditions, leading to a potential self-misdiagnosis.
Certain symptoms may indicate a vitamin D deficiency, though official diagnosis should be corroborated through proper testing. The distinct blood test required is called a 25(OH) D blood test (8). The test can be done at home or at a laboratory.
Some symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency include (7):
• Thinning or brittle bones, osteoporosis, or frequent bone fractures.
• Muscle weakness, often indicated by a sudden, unexplained change in muscle strength.
• Mood changes, vitamin D deficiency can cause anxiety or depression.
• Chronic pain, as vitamin D plays a key role in supporting bone, muscle and cell health.
• High or rising blood pressure.
• Exhaustion, fatigue.
• Unexplained infertility.
Side Effects of Too Much Vitamin D Supplementation
As mentioned, the daily recommended intake of vitamin D is 600-800 IU. However, studies conducted between 1999-2014 indicate a 2.8% uptick in the number of people taking potentially unsafe amounts of vitamin D, which equates to over 4000 IU per day, according to The Journal of the American Medical Association (6).
With an upper tolerable limit (UL) of 4000 IU per day, a trend of exceeding this amount has been shown. Necessary to note is that the UL suggestion of 4000 IU applies to individuals aged 9 and over. Unless otherwise advised by a physician, people should aim to keep there daily IU intake under 4000 (1).
A fine line exists between attaining sufficient levels of vitamin D, and excessive intake levels. Excessive intake is unlikely to occur through sun exposure or food sources. Rather, high dietary supplement intake can lead to excessive levels of vitamin D.
Watch this video highlighting the concerns of excessive vitamin D intake:
Excessive intake can lead to the following side effects of vitamin D.
Excess calcium builds up in the blood, potentially forming deposits in the arteries of soft tissues. Hypercalcemia can lead to subsequent damage to the heart, blood vessels, and kidneys (6).
Use of supplements of both calcium and vitamin D by postmenopausal women has been shown to increase the risk of kidney stones (1).
Greater risk of cancer at some points, such as the pancreas (1).
Falls and Fractures
Common risk among the elderly.
Fun In The Sun
Remember, most people can satisfy their vitamin D quota with help from the sun. Of course, don’t forget the key to well-being, balance. Should you be present with any symptoms of vitamin D deficiency, or have any vitamin D concerns, don’t hesitate to contact a physician. Spring is here, and summer just around the corner, enjoy some sun and its many benefits.
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