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Vitamin D: Why You Must Have It & How To Get Enough Of It

Have you heard about Vitamin D being an essential vitamin for you?

We did. For years. And what did we do about it? Like most we didn’t think too much about it.

And we did even less than that to figure out what it was that was so special about it.

But then a child happened and our daughter was born. As parents we quickly felt the sombering responsibility of that little girl.

Vitamin D and it being a truly essential vitamin was one of those things we learned about. What we learned changed us and our behaviour.

We’ve supplemented Vitamin D to our children and also ourselves from that moment on.

In this article we’ve compiled the latest and greatest about why you should care about your and your children's vitamin D intake and also how to get enough of it.

There’s actually no need to buy supplements, fancy food or other stuff to be able to get your dose of vitamin d each and every day.

There’s a free alternative that works wonders!

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Vitamin D Deficiency Is A Global Public Health Issue

Vitamin D deficiency is more prevalent than ever through history and chances are you’re one of those that are either deficient or don’t get the vitamin D that your body needs each and every day.

Vitamin D deficiency is a major global public health issue. About 1 billion people worldwide have vitamin D deficiency, while 50% of the population has vitamin D insufficiency.

There are concerns being voiced about this and there’s talks about screening high-risk populations. (source)

Increasing food fortification programs with vitamin D, sensible sun exposure recommendations and encouraging ingestion of a vitamin D supplement when needed are some of the activities that many believe should be implemented to prevent global vitamin D deficiency and its negative health consequences. (source)

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What Does Vitamin D Do For You Then?

If you have doubts about vitamin D and just how important it is for you, I suggest you start you journey by considering this:

Would nature evolve in a way so that your skin would be able to make vitamin D from a source like sunlight? If that wasn’t advantageous for us as a species I bet that it wouldn’t have survived through the eons.

So there’s the usual stuff you might have heard about Vitamin D of course.

The main of it being that it’s essential for bone and muscle health as it helps you to bind calcium among other things. (source)

But there’s even more exciting reasons for you to consider prioritizing vitamin D!

  • Research has also found that it helps the body fight acute respiratory infection, which is responsible for millions of deaths globally each year. (source)
  • Daily or weekly supplementation is cutting the risk of respiratory infection in half. (source)
  • Vitamin D has significant anti-inflammatory effects. (source)
  • Vitamin D has shown protective effects on the heart. (source)
  • Vitamin D can lead to significant improvement in depressive symptoms. (source)
  • Children given a daily vitamin D supplement of 1200 IU have a 40% lower rate of influenza type A. (source)

Did you know about these amazing benefits that vitamin D could provide to you?

For us it was the last one that I remember made us decide to take vitamin D seriously. Adequate vitamin D levels offered our children a healthier life.

We didn’t need to think more about it after that.




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How Much Vitamin D Do I Need Each Day?

Here’s a simple table on the recommended daily dosages of vitamin D.

If your doctor deems your deficient he or she will probably up the dosage for a limited time so that you’ll be able to get back to normal levels.

Here's a table with the Recommended Dietary Allowances of all ages and also pregnant and lactating women. There is no difference in reguirements between male or female.

Table 1. Recommendeded Dietary Allowance Vitamin D
ProfileAgeNormal Dose - IUNormal Dose - µg
Infant/toddler0 - 1400 IU10 µg
Children/teens2 - 18600 IU15 µg
Adults19 - 50600 IU15 µg
Mature51-70600 IU15 µg
Elderly70+800 IU20 µg
Pregnant/lactating600 IU15 µg

(Sources: 1, 2)

Use IU (International Unit) to compare

IU stands for International Units and is commonly used when desribing the amount of an substance.

IU makes it possible to compare the effects of biologically active substances between forms and preparations. (source)

We have an example of why using IU is so useful further down in this article where we go through the differences between vitamin D2 and D3.

Please note that the recommended intake of vitamin D is set on the assumption of little sun exposure. Think of us in Sweden, during the winter. It’s dark, cold and snowy. And no sun. In the northern parts of Scandinavia you won’t see the sun for months on end.

There’s also something called UL, Tolerable Upper Intake Level, of Vitamin D which we’ll talk about in the next chapter.

How Much Vitamin D Is Too Much? Can It Be Dangerous?

There is a UL, Tolerable Upper Intake Level, for Vitamin D. This becomes important especially when you’re taking supplements with vitamin D.

The tolerable upper intake level is the highest level of daily nutrient consumption that's considered to be safe for, and cause no side effects in 97,5% of healthy individuals in the general population. (source)

For an in-depth explanation of UL I recommend you go to this book: DRI Dietary Reference Intakes available from NIH.

Supplementing Vitamin D above these limits for an extended period of time is believed to be dangerous even for healthy people.

Excessive sun exposure doesn’t cause vitamin D toxicity because the body limits the amount of this vitamin it produces.

But you’ll have to recognize the fact that if you’re out in the sun getting all that free vitamin D that your body wants supplementing it even further might be problematic.

Here's a table of the UL, Tolerable Upper Intake Levels divided into age groups. As with the recommend daily allowances, there's no difference between male or female.

Table 2. Tolerable Upper Intake Level For Vitamin D
AgeUpper Limit - IUUpper Limit - µg
0 - 6m1,000 IU25 µg
7 - 12m1,500 IU38 µg
1 - 3y2,500 IU63 µg
4 - 8y3,000 IU75 µg
9 - 18y4,000 IU100 µg
19+4,000 IU100 µg
Pregnant/lactating4,000 IU100 µg

Vitamin D toxicity almost always occurs from overuse of supplements. Always consult with your health-professional before supplementing. Please be mindful of the risks. (source)




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How Do I Get Enough Vitamin D?

Vitamin D deficiency can come from several different causes, but the most common fault lies in inadequate dietary intake and inadequate exposure to sunlight.

About 50% to 90% of vitamin D is absorbed through the skin via sunlight while the rest comes from the diet. (source)

But the total levels of Vitamin D intake varies considerably depending on factors such as season, sun exposure/habits, latitude, nutrition/supplement intake and ethnicity (the color of your skin).

Let’s go through them one by one!

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Vitamin D Through Foods

Natural food sources of Vitamin D

Very few foods in nature contain a lot of vitamin D. The flesh of fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, and fish liver oils are among the best sources.

Small amounts of vitamin D are found in beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. Vitamin D in these foods is primarily in the form of vitamin D3.

Foods with added Vitamin D (fortified food)

Fortified foods provide most of the vitamin D in the Standard American Diet and also for many other countries. For example, almost all of the U.S. milk supply is voluntarily fortified with 100 IU/cup.

Vitamin D food fortification is one way of improving vitamin D intake and status in the general population in order to meet dietary vitamin D recommendations.

Adding Vitamin D to foods through Bioaddition

There’s two methods used to enrich food with vitamin D

  1. By simply adding vitamin D to the food
  2. By something called “bioaddition.”

Bioaddition of vitamin D, refers to various ways of increasing vitamin D content of food without direct exogenous addition of vitamin D.

Examples of bioaddition include

  • Feeding hens with vitamin D to increase the vitamin D content of the eggs
  • Increasing vitamin D content of feed for farmed fish to increase their flesh vitamin D content

(source)

What foods contain Vitamin D and where to buy them?

There are a few foods that contain a fair amount of Vitamin D. Fish and seafood are on top of the list.

We are building a nutrient tool for you, where you can look up certain foods you are interested in and for instance see what nutrients it has and how much you need to eat for your RDA. So please check back later and try it out! It will be launched soon.

If you are interested in buying some Vitamin D loaded foods, we recommend these canned salmon#ad and canned tuna#ad that you can find on Amazon. They contain high amounts of Vitamin D and canned products are easy to ship and have a long durability. You can always read the reviews on what other people think about them.




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Get Your Vitamin D For Free! Through Sunshine!

Vitamin D is also available for free to each and every human on this planet of ours.

Vitamin D is unique as it can be made in the skin from exposure to sunlight.

When vitamin D is produced in the skin, it may last at least twice as long in the blood compared with ingested vitamin D.

Most people meet at least some of their vitamin D needs, being out in the sun.

Skin exposed to sunshine indoors through a window will not produce vitamin D. Cloudy days, shade, can also cut down on the amount of vitamin D the skin makes.

Getting your tan in a solarium doesn’t work as well either as the light emitted is mainly UVA. It’s the UVB radiation that your skin needs to produce vitamin D.

Wearing a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30 reduces vitamin D synthesis in the skin by more than 95%. (source)

Persons who are overweight or obese are at increased risk for vitamin D deficiency and need more sunlight to uphold their leveals of vitamin D. (source)

Does my skin tone matter for getting Vitamin D from the sun?

Yes, people with a naturally dark skin tone have natural sun protection and require at least three to five times longer exposure to make the same amount of vitamin D as a person with a white skin tone. (source)

Aim for 20 minutes of daily sun to prevent Vitamin D deficiency

Twenty minutes of sunshine daily with over 40% of skin exposed is required to prevent vitamin D deficiency. (source)

According to The Swedish Radiation Safety authority there is a limit to how much sun the skin can absorb. So it doesn’t matter if you stay in the sun for a whole day, trying to get a lot of vitamin D. When the vitamin D depots are filled, the skin “shuts off” and stops producing vitamin D. (source, in Swedish only)

Latitudes impact on Vitamin D uptake

Latitude is found to be a statistically significant risk factor for vitamin D deficiency. (source)

Individuals living at higher latitudes are likely to have lower levels of vitamin D because of reduced vitamin D3-effective UV radiation.

But UV irradiance is not the only determinant of vitamin D status. Individuals living at lower latitudes in relatively sunny environments are also at risk of vitamin D insufficiency. (source)

During the winter when living above and below approximately 33° latitude very little if any vitamin D3 can be produced in the skin from sun exposure.

People who live further North and South often cannot make any vitamin D3 in their skin for up to 6 months of the year.

For example in Boston at 42° North essentially no vitamin D3 can be produced in the skin from November through February. (source)

What's the best time to be in the sun?

Most people can make enough vitamin D from being out in the sun daily for short periods with their forearms, hands or lower legs uncovered and without sunscreen from late March or early April to the end of September, especially from 11am to 3pm. (source)

It's not known exactly how much time is needed in the sun to make enough vitamin D to meet the body's requirements.

In the early morning and late afternoon the zenith angle of the sun is also more oblique similar to winter sunlight and as a result very little if any vitamin D3 can be produced in the skin before 10 a.m. and after 3 p.m. even in the summer months. (source)




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Vitamin D Through Supplements

There’s a lot of different vitamin D supplements available and they do have a place in our lives.

They provide many of us with the much needed vitamin D during the less sunny seasons and especially for those who don’t eat fish/seafood.

Use of vitamin D supplements represents an effective strategy for the prevention and treatment of vitamin D deficiency at the individual level.

A variety of options are available for individual vitamin D supplements, including capsules, chewable tablets, liquids, and drops.

Cod liver oil is a good source of vitamin D, but in large doses there is a risk of vitamin A toxicity.

And some of those capsules are also made of gelatin which in turn aren’t 100% risk free. Especially if you aren't 100% sure how and from what the gelatin is produced. (source)

Traditional multivitamin tablets are usually a sufficient supplement of Vitamin D. On the plus side you can also get other vitamins at the same time.

Just don’t use supplements as an excuse to not eat a varied healthy diet or for not being outside in the sun.

And be sure to check the UL, Tolerable Upper Intake Level of each and every nutrient in each of the supplements you take.

One daily dose of a supplement shouldn’t make you exceed the UL of any nutrient but if you’re combining 2 or more, then we recommend you do yourself a favor and add them up.

Like with so many things in life; moderation is the key.

Where to buy Vitamin D supplements

If you suspect that you don't get enough Vitamin D either by lack of sunshine or your dietary habits there are effective and quite affordable supplements available.

But, a supplement should be just that, a supplement, it should never be your only source of Vitamin D.

We use it mainly the days we don't get to eat seafood or during winter when the sun isn't strong enough to help us get our daily dose of vitamin D.

We recommend you look for a supplement on Amazon and check out their many different varieties of Vitamin D supplements#ad. We recommend you buy a supplement made by a reputable producer with a well-known brand.

All Vitamin D Aren’t Created Equal. What’s The Difference Between Vitamin D2 And D3?

Vitamin D exists in two forms: D2 and D3.

Vitamin D2

Vitamin D2 comes from plant sources, particularly mushrooms, that have been exposed to sunlight.

We can’t produce vitamin D2 through sun exposure.

Vitamin D2 is cheaper to produce than D3.

So it’s no wonder that's why Vitamin D2 is more commonly found in fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, milk, eggs, and other dairy products, than Vitamin D3.

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D3 on the other hand you can make yourself from the UVB light that the sun emits.

The fact that we can make it ourselves makes it in our mind the most natural vitamin D variety of the two.

Vitamin D3 is found in animal-sourced foods, such as fatty fish like salmon and tuna, fish oils, egg yolk, butter, and liver.




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Research shows that D3 is used more effectively than D2

Historically, both forms of vitamin D have been considered equal in terms of their physiological effects.

However, recent studies, which compare their capacity to increase vitamin D status, show different results.

The results have shown that vitamin D3 is usually more effective than vitamin D2. (source)

This doesn’t surprise me as it would have been quite ineffective for nature to let us make a vitamin D variant from the sun that’s not as effective as it can be.

So if you have to choose between vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 I would suggest that you go for D3.

If the label says only Vitamin D you can bet that it’s D2. Everything that can enhance the bottom-line and all that...

But, here's why IU is so useful!

Using IU to compare different products and food sources for vitamin D

As we mentioned earlier in this article the use of IU, International Units, is quite useful when comparing different forms and products of a biologically active substances.

Even though D2 and D3 content differs between products in actual amount (measured in µg) they can still be measured in the effect they can have as a Vitamin D source.

Here's an example of how useful IU is

Instead of figuring out how the Vitamin D2 and D3 compare to each other and how they compare in different forms etc. you can use IU instead.

Table 3. Example Of The Power Of Using IU (International Units) To Compare Foods/products
Food (100g)Vitamin D - IUVitamin D2 - µgVitamin D3 - µg
Milk, imitation, non-soy42 IU1.1 µg0 µg
Pork, cured, bacon42 IU0 µg1.00 µg

The vitamin D you get from both of these really different foods is 42 IU per 100 g.

The milk-imitation contains no D3 but 1.10 µg of D2 and the Pork on the other hand doesn't contain any D2 but has 1.00 µg of D3.

As you can see you need 10% (0.1 µg) more D2 to get the same Vitamin D "effect" compared to D3. (source)

IU makes our lives easier. Using IU makes it so that we don't have to know every little detail about for instance the bio availability of D2 vs D3.




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Conclusion: Get It And Enjoy Being Healthier. Researched Backed And All!

The numbers of people with vitamin D deficiency are continuously increasing. Vitamin D is essential for all humans. Vitamin D deficiency is far too common in all age groups.

Make sure you and your loved ones have a good intake of Vitamin D each and every day.

Obtaining sufficient vitamin D from natural food sources alone is difficult.

Consumption of vitamin D-fortified foods and/or exposure to some sunlight are essential for maintaining a healthy vitamin D status.

Dietary supplements might be required to meet the daily need for vitamin D either for a limited period or as an everyday option.

People who avoid the sun or who cover their bodies with sunscreen or clothing should include good sources of vitamin D in their diets or take a supplement.

For most people, as it does for us, it’ll require a combination of a little of everything to be able to get the daily recommended intake of vitamin D:

  • Eat Vitamin D rich foods once or twice a week
  • Try to be in the sun once a day
  • and maybe even get a good supplement. Especially if you live somewhere where you don’t get much direct sunlight.

I hope we managed to inspire you to prioritize yours and your family's vitamin D intake.

Just like it did for us!

Article written by,

Sara Niemelä

co-founder Care Omnia, Head Content Creator

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), University Diploma in Educational Information and Communication Technology, Bachelor of Science in Social Work