Sun lovers, rejoice — the vitamin that's formed naturally by exposure to sunlight is essential to your health. Vitamin D plays a significant role in bone maintenance, muscle function and the immune system. Your body naturally produces vitamin D when you're exposed to sunlight, and some foods contain the vitamin. If you discover that you're deficient, there are some ways to bring your vitamin D levels up as quickly as possible to prevent potential long-term damage to your body.
Vitamin D3 Deficiency
The USDA Office of Dietary Supplements recommends that adults 50 to 70 years of age get 600 IU of vitamin D3 every day or 800 IU if you’re 70 years of age or older. Vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world, meaning that a large percentage of Americans are below the RDA for optimum health. Signs of a vitamin D deficiency include muscle weakness, bone pain and eventually increased fracture rates if left untreated. A severe vitamin D deficiency could cause rickets, a bone-softening disease. In addition, there may be an association between decreased levels of vitamin D and mood swings, according to Psychology Today.
Milk is a good source of vitamin D because it is fortified and, unsurprisingly, there seems to be a link between vitamin D deficiency and milk allergies or lactose intolerance. Additionally, because various types of seafood are rich sources of vitamin D, vegetarians or vegans may have low levels of vitamin D.
It's been shown that there's a relationship between low levels of Vitamin D and the risk of cancers, including colorectal, breast, prostate, and pancreatic cancer. A study published in the journal Clinical Breast Cancer in 2017 compared the results of chemotherapy in women with breast cancer. The findings from the pathologist reports showed that women with higher levels of vitamin D were three times more likely to have no evidence of cancer after chemotherapy compared to women with low vitamin D levels.
The Best Source: Sunshine
The fastest way to increase vitamin D levels is to expose your skin to natural sunlight. It's the vitamin D3 component of vitamin D that your skin produces when combined with sunshine. The Vitamin D Council says that in as little as 15 minutes for a fair-skinned person, the body can produce 10,000 to 25,000 IU of vitamin D. How much time you need in the sun depends on the time of day, season, where you live and skin color. Don't worry about getting too much vitamin D from sunshine because excesses are stored in your body's fat for later use.
Foods That Contain Vitamin D3
Unfortunately, only a few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Foods that supply a small amount of vitamin D, primarily in the form of vitamin D3, include beef liver, cheese and egg yolks, according to the USDA Office of Dietary Supplements. Other foods that contain vitamin D are the flesh and oils of fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel.
You can also help meet your vitamin D3 levels from fortified foods, which include cereals, milk, orange juice, butter substitutes and yogurt.
Cofactors for Vitamin D3
Include foods in your diet that provide nutrients that act in a synergistic way to help with the absorption and utilization of vitamin D. Magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin K, zinc and boron are all cofactors necessary to metabolize vitamin D3. Magnesium levels have the greatest effect on vitamin D3 to exert a positive benefit and may have a role in vitamin D's effect on the immune system. Nuts, beans and fish are good sources of magnesium.
Vitamin D3 Supplements
Many factors contribute to an increased need to take vitamin D supplements to increase your vitamin D3 level. The Vitamin D Council lists not having access to fortified foods; being dark skinned; commonly using sunscreen; being elderly; wearing clothing that extensively covers the skin for cultural reasons; being pregnant; breastfeeding babies; being obese; or having a fat malabsorption condition such as celiac disease. When choosing a supplement, consider vitamin D3 as it's metabolized better than other forms of vitamin D, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Consult your doctor about medications you're currently taking as many interact or interfere with vitamin D3. Anticonvulsants, corticosteroids, hormone replacement drugs, anticoagulants, weight loss drugs and several other medications can reduce absorption of vitamin D, advises the National Institutes of Health.
- National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin D
- Vitamin D Council: Vitamin D Cofactors
- Medical News Today: Lactose Intolerance Linked to Lower Vitamin D Levels
- Vitamin D Council: Am I Deficient in Vitamin D?
- Nutraceuticals World: Association: Magnesium Essential to Absorption of Vitamin D and Calcium
- Psychology Today: Psychological Consequences of Vitamin D Deficiency
- PubMed.gov: Clinical Breast Cancer: Serum Vitamin D Levels Affect Pathologic Complete Response in Patients Undergoing Neoadjuvant Systemic Therapy for Operable Breast Cancer
- Hormones and Balance: How to Replenish Your Vitamin D Levels
- Dr. Axe: Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms & Sources to Reverse It!
- Nutrients: Considerations for Secondary Prevention of Nutritional Deficiencies in High-Risk Groups in High-Income Countries