The Lamen

Do you need a vitamin D supplement? Almost everyone does

A bar graph for the breast cancer rates among women of different ethnicities.

A daily vitamin D supplement has become a modern-day necessity, where nearly half the world is unknowingly deficient in the sunshine vitamin.

Photo: Bing AI

Published on Oct 22, 2023

Muscle aches, recurring infections, sleeping problems, or constantly feeling “low” are just some of the subtle signs of a vitamin D deficiency. The “sunshine vitamin” is a special one — our bodies manufacture it under sunlight, yet nearly half the world’s population has insufficient vitamin D levels.

Our bodies make their own vitamin D when exposed to the sun. Your body has 7-dehydrocholesterol molecules that absorb the UV B radiation from sunlight — transforming into pre-vitamin D3, and eventually converted into its active form, vitamin D3.

Yes, but: Nearly 42 percent of Americans have a vitamin D deficiency. These rates were even greater in blacks (82 percent) and Hispanics (69 percent). Even subtropical regions in India report vitamin D insufficiency levels as high as 90 percent.

  • Having a serum 25(OH)D concentration lower than 20 nanograms per milliliter is generally defined as vitamin D deficiency.
  • In the spring and summer, about 25 percent of the body is exposed to the sun. As a result, only a few minutes of afternoon sun produces the recommended amount of vitamin D.
  • However, in winter or in regions that experience less time under the sun, people produce only one-quarter of the recommended vitamin D.
  • People of color typically require more time under the sun — as the melanin in their darker skin makes getting vitamin D from the sun more difficult.

While getting some sunlight every day has benefits beyond getting vitamin D, dermatologists don’t want you spending hours under the sun.

The UV rays from the sun can cause sunburns, aging of the skin, and skin cancer. While wearing sunscreen every day can reduce your risk by up to 50 percent, some believe that it may affect your vitamin D levels.

  • While sunscreens could theoretically negatively impact vitamin D production, there is little evidence that supports such claims.
  • Experts say that any more than a few minutes of sunlight without sunscreen is unrealistic and harmful.

The general consensus is to get a few minutes of morning sunlight, avoid UV radiation during peak hours, and wearing your sunscreen.

Foods like salmon, tuna, vitamin-D-fortified milk, and egg yolks also provide some amounts of vitamin D. However, this can be insignificant compared to recommended doses. This is where vitamin D supplements come in.

Taking vitamin D supplements is an efficient way of maintaining adequate vitamin D levels and even treating replete individuals.

  • Current recommendations say adults need 600 IU of vitamin D every day. That’s equivalent to having about 300 grams of egg yolks or drinking 5 cups of fortified milk.
  • Doctors recommend 600 IU of vitamin D per day for children, teenagers, and adults, but increase it to 800 IU for the elderly — as their bodies grow inefficient in digesting vitamin D.

While the cardiovascular and other health benefits of vitamin D supplementation are still unclear, it is still an essential element of good health.

Too much vitamin D, however, can cause nausea, vomiting, and calcium buildup — leading to bone pain or the formation of calcium stones in the kidneys.