Vitamin D is that gift the sun gives every day that makes a body run like it should. Find out where else you can get it and why you want it!
What is it?
Vitamin D is a fat soluble compound that is responsible for increasing the absorption of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphate, and zinc, making it important for bone health, metabolism, and mood. It also plays a role in neuromuscular and immune function.
What’s a vitamin?
Vitamin D isn’t technically a vitamin. To receive that title, a compound must be something that humans cannot synthesize in sufficient amounts, if at all, within our bodies without getting the vitamin or the vitamin precursor externally. Vitamins come from the foods we eat, and the body then puts them to use.
Where do we get it?
Vitamin D, unlike other vitamins, can be made from scratch within our bodies without any specialized foods or outside organic compounds. All it takes is some sunlight and a little cholesterol, both of which are plentiful and readily available to most of us. We really shouldn’t need any additional vitamin D in our diets. Vitamin D isn’t available in many foods. It’s fat soluble, so builds up in fatty fish, but it can also be found in mushrooms, yeast, other fungi, lichen, and algae that have seen sunlight. Most supplements rely on lanolin (sheep fat from wool) that has been exposed to UV light.
Why could we be deficient?
Unfortunately, thanks to man’s modern expansion across the globe and our technological advances, we’ve 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. We go from building to car to building over and over again. Many of us spend more time outside at night than during the day. We’ve also expanded into the northern and southern reaches of the world where less sunlight is available. When we do go out, we use heavy-duty sunscreens. All this has resulted in deficiencies of this important compound that should be abundantly available to all of us.
What forms does it take?
The form found in animals is D3, or cholecalciferol, while the form found in fungi is D2, or calciferol. Most experts agree that vitamin D3 is the most bioavailable form as it is the same form our bodies create when exposed to sunlight. There have been some conflicting studies about the effectiveness of D2 versus D3 though. Some have found D2 less effective while others have shown it to be just as effective as D3.
Supplements are available for both vitamin D2 and 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, like other fat soluble vitamins, in large doses is toxic. You can take D2 in smaller doses for sustained periods with less risk of side effects while getting the same benefits of a larger dose of D3 for a short period.
For those that want the more bioavailable D3 though, there is hope for plant-based, healthier options that don’t include processed fish oils or sheep’s wool. Vitamin D3 has been found in certain lichens, and this has found its way into vegan vitamin D supplements.
You can also get plenty of vitamin D3 for free by stepping outside each day. Start by trying to get ten to fifteen minutes of sunshine each day without any sunscreen. Those with darker skin may need twenty to thirty. That, during the warmer months, is all you need, and you minimize any risk of skin damage by keeping it so short. If you plan on being out longer, say hitting the beach for a couple hours, then you should definitely still be using sunscreen. During late fall, winter, and early spring, you may need to look at supplementation, especially if you live farther from the equator or have darker skin.
Either way, look into making sure you have enough, but not too much, of this important hormone that regulates the mineralization of bone and has been linked to preventing cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and more.