Vitamin D isn’t technically a vitamin. To receive that title, a compound must be something that humans cannot synthesize within the body or something that can’t be synthesized without food. So vitamins come from the foods we eat and the body puts them to use. Vitamin D, on the other hand, can be made from scratch within the skin without any specialized foods or outside organic compounds. All it takes is some sunlight and a little cholesterol, both plentiful and readily available. We really shouldn’t need any additional vitamin D in our diets.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Man’s modern expansion across the globe, and our technological advances have both made vitamin D more difficult to get. We no longer hunt and gather in the sunshine. We aren’t farming all day or peddling our wares in open air markets. We don’t see the sun as often as we once did. We no longer move with the seasons or stick to the warmer regions. We sit indoors all day under artificial light. Many of us spend more time outside at night than during the day. We go from building to car to grocery store and back. We’ve expanded into the northern and southern reaches of the world where less sunlight is available. We even head to buildings to exercise instead of the great outdoors.
All this has resulted in deficiencies of an important compound that should be abundantly available. Vitamin D isn’t available in many foods. It is a fat soluble vitamin, so it is found mostly in fatty fish, but it is also found in mushrooms, yeast, other fungi, and algae that have seen sunlight. The form found in animals is D3 while the form found in fungi is D2. There have been conflicting studies about the effectiveness of D2 versus D3. Some have found D2 less effective while others have shown it to be just as effective as D3.
All in all, D2 will still do some good. It may or may not be true that it doesn’t last as long as D3 or raise vitamin D levels in the body as high, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Vitamin D in large doses is toxic. You can take D2 in smaller doses for sustained periods with less risk or side effects and get the same benefits of a larger dose of D3 for a short period.
For those that want D3, there is some hope for plant-based, healthier options that don’t include fish oils or processed sheep’s wool. D3 has been found in certain lichens and this has found its way into some vegan vitamin D supplements. Start by trying to get ten to twenty minutes of sunshine each day and then look into making sure you get enough of this important hormone which regulates the mineralization of bone and has been linked to preventing cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and more.
Learn more about Charlie Pulsipher
Photo credit: Andreas Krappweis
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