worshipping the sun

This article is a need-to-know guide to understanding the benefits of Vitamin D and the risks of being deficient in this key nutrient.

Article Guide to Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms and Vitamin D Benefits:

  • Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms
  • Vitamin D Deficiency Health Risks
  • Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency and At-Risk Groups
  • What Does Vitamin D do?
  • Potential Benefits of Vitamin D
  • Vitamin D3 vs D2
  • Vitamin D and Kids
  • Vitamin D dosages and overdose risks
  • Buying Vitamin D Supplements

Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms

Research suggests that up to 77% of people are deficient in vitamin D without knowing it.

If you shun the sun, have milk/dairy allergies, or have a strict vegetarian diet, you may be at risk for vitamin D deficiency.  Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D3 (the natural form of vitamin D) is produced in your body in response to sun exposure.  Vitamin D3 is also found in a few foods, including fatty fish, egg yolks, as well as in some fortified dairy and grain products though it can be very difficult to get optimal amounts of vitamin D3 from food alone. 

Vitamin D deficiency symptoms are usually very subtle and non-specific, such as bone pains or muscle aches.  Yet even without  any outward vitamin D deficiency symptoms, too little vitamin D can pose significant health risks.  So even if you do not have any of the vitamin D deficiency symptoms, you  may still want to consider getting a blood level test from your doctor to ensure you get all the benefits of Vitamin D.

Vitamin D Deficiency Health Risks

Although Vitamin D deficiency symptoms may not be evident, the health risks of low blood levels of Vitamin D are worth taking seriously.

Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency and At-Risk Groups

Remember up to 77% of the population is suspected of being Vitamin D deficient, but some people run more of a risk than others.  Consider these risk factors when evaluating your vitamin D status, regardless of whether you exhibit any vitamin D deficiency symptoms:

  • You are dark-skinned – research shows that because darker-skinned people have higher levels of melanin in their skin, they suffer a reduced ability to produce and absorb of D3 from sun exposure.
  • You are Pregnant – current research indicates that adequate vitamin D levels may be crucial for both your health and your developing baby’s birth weight.
  • You have limited or no sun exposure – the farther you live from the equator (and in the US this means people living in the northern states) the less likely you are to receive adequate daily sunlight during the winter.  Also, some people just spend all their time indoors year round.  Both these groups of people are at risk of having low vitamin D levels.
  • You are a Baby Boomer – as you age, your skin naturally loses the ability to generate sufficient vitamin D and supplementation becomes critical.  Anyone over the age of 40 should consider supplementing with D3, regardless of their ability to get sun exposure year-round.
  • You are obese– Fat cells extract vitamin D3 from the blood, altering its release into circulation.  If you have a BMI of over 30, get checked even if you have no vitamin D deficiency symptoms.
  • Your kidneys cannot convert vitamin D to its active form– as we age, our bodies are less able to convert vitamin D to its active form which is why seniors need to be especially careful about vitamin d deficiencies.
  • Your digestive tract does not effectively absorb vitamin D– Certain medical conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and celiac disease affect your intestine’s ability to absorb vitamin D.

What Does Vitamin D Do?

Answering “what does Vitamin D do” is complicated.  In brief, vitamin D3 has recently emerged as one of the most important vitamins because of the many things it does in the expression and regulation of your genes.  This powerful vitamin has been discovered to play a key role in regulating more than 2700 genes in your body.*  The human genome project recently completed their work and uncovered 30,000 genes responsible for how your body functions.  That means nearly ten percent of all the genes in your body are, in part, regulated by your vitamin D levels!  More importantly, these genome-binding sites affected by vitamin D are near genes involved in virtually every major disease in human beings.*

This means a sub-optimal level of vitamin D3 may affect literally thousands of important bodily functions.  Vitamin D receptors are located across the entire human body, including throughout your brain.

Although there is no simple answer to “what does Vitamin D do?”, you can learn more about vitamin D benefits to understand what vitamin D can do for you.

Benefits of Vitamin D

The potential benefits of vitamin D are myriad. If it were a prescription drug, the label claim benefits of vitamin D would absolutely astound you.  And because it’s a naturally occurring vitamin in foods and the human body, we can point to what a large body research indicates optimal levels of vitamin D3 may benefit:

  • bone health*
  • joint health*
  • immune system health*
  • heart health*
  • proper cell growth*

But vitamin D, as important as it is for maintaining good health, is one of the most misunderstood vitamins – it comes in several forms, and can even be prescribed by a doctor for cases of severe deficiency.

Which Form of Vitamin D is Best for You?

Vitamin D comes in two forms: D2 and D3.  It actually comes in three forms since there are pharmaceutical grades of vitamin D and its metabolites that are made synthetically, but most health experts agree that many synthetically produced supplements created in a laboratory are inferior to natural sources.  And according to the Vitamin D Council you should avoid pharmaceutical grade Vitamin D entirely to treat deficiency in this vitamin.

Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is derived from plant sources and is not normally found in the human body.  D2 therefore is thought to be less well absorbed by your body.  Some health experts also believe that since D2 is not naturally present in the body, it may produce unknown and possibly detrimental effects when digested in your gastrointestinal tract.

D3 (cholecalciferol), on the other hand, is the exact form of vitamin D your body produces when your skin comes into contact with sunlight.  D3 for this reason is considered the type your body is programmed to recognize and the one health experts agree should be included in your vitamin supplement.

In fact, a study published in the Journal of Endocrinology & Metabolism found that vitamin D3 is 87 percent more potent at raising blood levels than Vitamin D2.  D3 also produced a 2-3 fold increase in storage of the vitamin compared to D2.  The study concluded that due to its greater potency, vitamin D3 should be the preferred form when treating deficiency.

That’s why when we designed SmartyPants For Adults we chose to include 900 IU of vitamin D3, the type proven to be the most beneficial.

How Much Vitamin D Should You be Taking?

We’ve seen a long running debate in the medical community over the issue of how much vitamin D is enough.  Many experts agree that the current recommendations of 600 IU is not enough.  That’s why in our product we decided to follow these expert recommendations and include 900 IU of D3.

Some in the medical community believe that even higher supplementation is needed to achieve therapeutic blood levels of D metabolites.  The only way to really be sure how much vitamin D your body needs is to have your doctor perform a blood test.  Especially if you are challenged by any deficiency related symptoms listed above that this vitamin might help treat, check with your doctor about additional supplementation beyond the RDA.

But remember; avoid D2 and stick with the better absorbed and more efficacious type D3.

Vitamin D and Sun Exposure

Your skin has been designed to produce vitamin D3 when it comes into contact with direct sunlight.  In fact, for millennia this is exactly how humans have gotten their optimal levels of vitamin D.  And guess what, your body has a natural feedback mechanism that shuts off vitamin D absorption from your skin when you reach optimal levels in your bloodstream.

The same phenomenon is not true for supplementation.  In fact, too much vitamin D can present a bigger problem than deficiency (you would most likely have to take many, many thousands of IUs – around to 40,000, through supplementation before you approached detrimental blood levels of D metabolites).  However, this point is worth mentioning because this natural feedback loop inside your body is exactly why some health experts prefer that you get your vitamin D naturally from sun exposure.

The trouble is today many skin health professionals and skin health organizations are advising you to avoid the sun entirely, and when that’s not possible they advise a liberal slathering of sunblock on your exposed skin.

Unfortunately, both of these recommendations shut down your body’s natural ability to produce vitamin D.  No sun exposure gives you no chance at all, while sunscreen effectively blocks out the UVB rays that are responsible for vitamin D production.  To make matters even worse, many sunblocks still allow the more damaging UVA rays to get through to your skin, so by covering your body with sunblock not only are you blocking out the vitamin D producing UVB rays, you’re still exposing yourself to the most harmful spectrum of light from the sun!

Skin professionals continue to advise this approach to sun management because of the very real fear of skin cancer.  A compromise might be to limit your sun exposure to a few minutes every day — for a more comprehensive strategy for healthy sun exposure we encourage you to research the facts about UVB spectrum sunlight and then discuss this subject with your doctor or dermatologist.

Of course, for many people the winter months offer few (if any) opportunities to get enough strong direct sunlight at all.  Upping your intake of vitamin D-rich foods, getting indoor UVB exposure via special sun lamps, and supplementing with D3 may provide the best assurance that your body is getting the vitamin D it needs to maintain your good health.

Vitamin D Summary

Whether you’re young or old, vitamin D is one nutrient that provides benefits throughout your lifetime and may affect more essential processes in your body than any other one vitamin.

If your goal is to enjoy a lifetime of good health, please consider making vitamin D a priority and work with your healthcare professional to achieve your own personal optimal levels of this vitamin based on your age and status of current health.

Posted on June 26, 2012