In this article:
- What is vitamin D3 and where does it come from?
- Health effects of vitamin D deficiency
- What are the benefits of vitamin D?
- Dietary sources of vitamin D
- Plant vs. animal sources of vitamin D
Vitamin D, also called “calciferol” or the sunshine vitamin is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be produced by the body or absorbed by some natural foods and vitamin d supplements. Vitamin D helps to protect our bone health by retaining calcium and phosphorus. Adequate vitamin D intake is crucial to the healthy growth of our bones and teeth and can help to prevent conditions affecting the skeletal system. Another health benefit of vitamin D is immune system support.
Choosing the right form of vitamin D for you will depend primarily on your diet. Unlike vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) which can only be found in plant-based sources, vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) can be both synthesized within the body or via consuming animal products and meats. When ultraviolet (UVB) radiation from sunlight contacts your skin cells, it creates vitamin D3. Then, the stored inactive version of the vitamin (AKA 25-hydroxyvitamin d) is converted by the kidneys into its active form of calcitriol. The total body effects of vitamin D are too good to pass up!
Having too little and too much vitamin D can have negative health consequences. Vitamin D deficiency is not uncommon, especially during the winter in the northern hemisphere. Not having enough vitamin D has side effects including tiredness, severe muscle and bone pain, and frequent stress fractures. It can also contribute to a number of medical conditions that range in severity from seasonal depression to heart disease.
Factors that can increase your likelihood of vitamin D deficiency include:
Having low vitamin D is more likely than having too much vitamin D, but both are possible. High doses of vitamin D can lead to vitamin D toxicity or hypervitaminosis D. When this occurs, calcium builds up in the gut and can lead to constipation or hypercalcemia of the blood. Though it's rare, you should consult your health care provider to determine your vitamin D status before you begin supplementing.
Many of us are now facing a new dilemma - the health effects of indoor isolation due to COVID. Older adults are at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus, so many have barely ventured outside of the house in recent months. Unfortunately, this also puts them at risk of vitamin D deficiencies which can leave the bones brittle, prone to fractures, and possibly deformed. When sunlight isn't in abundance, dietary supplements can make up for it.
If skin cancer weren't in the equation, sunbathing would be a perfect solution to vitamin D deficiencies. Since that's not a viable option, don't ditch your sunscreen, reach for a supplement instead!
When it comes to food, vitamin D2 can be found in plant sources and D3 in animal sources. For vegan sources, mushrooms and orange juice are your best bet. Otherwise, vitamin D3 can be found in
Diet alone typically cannot provide the amount of vitamin D that your body needs. By taking a multivitamin and/or vitamin D supplement, you can fill in the gaps. Most vitamin D3 supplements are not vegan, as they are sourced from lanolin, the coating of sheep's wool. With that said, vegan Vitamin D3 supplements are out there. Also known as lichen vitamin D3, these supplements derive vitamin D from algae and lichen fungus.
Vegan vitamin D3 was unheard of until recently. Lanolin, the most unsuspecting ingredient, has more research and clinical trials to back it up than lichen sources. It's tried and true! With that said, plant sources are typically cleaner and more sustainable when compared to animal-based products. Lichen is typically more expensive but can be a great choice for anyone following a strict vegan diet. Vegans can also squeeze in more vitamin D with the above foods and by getting healthy amounts of sun now and again. For specific medical advice on which supplement fits your unique needs, talk to your doctor. They will be able to check your blood levels of vitamin D to find a recommended dietary allowance that fits your needs and lifestyle. In a world of physical distancing, a virtual appointment with your doctor can get you on the right track to improve immunity, alleviated depression, and strong healthy bones all thanks to vitamin D3!
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