Ask the Dietitian: Should I Take Vitamin D Supplements?

Photo by Colin Dunn
Photo by Colin Dunn

From building and maintaining strong bones to regulating gene expression and keeping our immune systems running strong, vitamin D plays an important role in may of our body’s normal functions. Vitamin D is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” because our bodies make it when we are exposed to sunlight. There are also food sources of vitamin D. So why would someone need a vitamin D supplement?

As mentioned, our skin makes vitamin D when we are exposed to direct sunlight. If you live in a sunny, temperate climate, this is relatively simple, but for those who of us who spend most of ours days indoors, or who live in northern geographics, getting enough sunshine for vitamin D production can be a challenge. Some foods naturally contain vitamin D, however the list is short. Fatty fish such as wild-caught salmon and tuna tend to be the best sources, while egg yolks and mushrooms contain relatively low amounts of vitamin D. Foods can be fortified with vitamin D and milk is a good example of this.

So how do you know if you’re getting enough vitamin D and whether a supplement is beneficial? Adults should aim for at least 600- 800 IU of vitamin D per day. Since vitamin D can come from the sun, foods and supplements, the best of way of determining whether you are getting enough is through a blood test in which your 25-hydroxyvitamin D level will me measured. Healthy levels range between 20- 50 ng/mL.

Should your blood test reveal that you are in need of more vitamin D, supplements can be helpful for increasing your vitamin D intake. Vitamin D supplements are available in two forms; vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. The D3 form, also known as cholecalciferol, is most effective at raising your blood levels of vitamin D. Doses of 800-1000 IU daily are most common, however the best approach is to work with your clinician to establish your ideal dose.

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