The truth behind Vitamin D benefits is that it’s not actually a vitamin!
It’s a hormone that supports healthy bones, muscles, and immune function. It was labeled a “vitamin” prematurely before we fully understood its full importance for the body.
Unfortunately, most Americans are deficient in this crucial hormone due to our indoor lifestyles and sun protection habits.
Newer studies suggest that higher levels of vitamin D can reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune diseases.
My favorite Vitamin D benefit is that it acts like a “referee” for the immune system – keeping a “seesaw” balance between all of the players.
Why worry about Vitamin D Supplements?
Symptoms of vitamin D3 deficiency may be quiet or take years to experience as signs and symptoms.
Vitamin D comes in forms such as D3 (cholecalciferol) and D2 (ergocalciferol; calcifediol). We make the D3 form on our own, or it’s found naturally in small amounts in animal products like egg yolks, salmon, or cod liver oil.
The best way to support levels outside of our own production from sun exposure is through supplementation.
Opt for the D3 form when supplementing, which is better absorbed and utilized than D2 (ergocalciferol). (1).
Because Vitamin D3 works best with other fat-soluble vitamins, I’ll use MegaQuinD3 or Vitamin A D K Complete most commonly.
Read on to learn why you should think about D3 supplementation…
Deficiency of Vitamin D3
Don’t let a Vitamin D3 deficiency get in the way of optimal health. Factors like solubility, skin tone, location, weight, bathing routines, and sunscreen usage can all impact vitamin absorption.
One of the easiest ways to increase absorption is by pairing D3 with a fat-containing meal (2). Surprisingly, many researchers and professionals overlook this important detail when recommending supplementation.
Optimal creation of vitamin D3 from the sun requires 5-30 minutes of peak sun exposure on the arms, face, and hands, between 11 am-3 pm (3). Avoid showering until a few hours after exposure, as oil on the skin continues to absorb D3 after the first hour and continues to do so for up to two weeks.
Because many of us shower 1-2x per day, the first few hours can be critical for many individuals.
Individuals with darker skin may require even longer exposure times.
Keep these tips in mind in order to maximize your body’s Vitamin D3 levels and feel your best.
Your location may also impact vitamin D3 levels.
Living in northern latitudes can increase the likelihood of vitamin D deficiency. Individuals that live south of Virginia, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, and Kentucky state borders tend to have better vitamin D levels than those in those states and more north.
I’ve measured some of the lowest D3 levels ever in Arizona because of indoor lifestyles, more frequent sunscreen use, not being able to get peak sunlight due to work and lunch schedules, excessive desert heat, and other factors.
Additionally, populations in beach areas and southern locations can be seasonal, with individuals living in more northern states at other times of the year.
Don’t let your location or weight impact your health – prioritize your vitamin D levels.
How much vitamin d3 should I take daily?
The Upper Limit for D3 is 4000 IU, so exceeding that if you don’t need it can be a concern (6). Generally speaking, anyone taking more than 2000 IU of D3 daily should have their blood levels monitored every three months.
Some argue 10,000 IU may be more appropriate as an upper limit, and that level just has not been adequately studied.
It is not unusual for health professionals to recommend supplementation in the 4000-10,000+ IU range in deficiency states – especially when you account for the deficiency reasons explained above.
As discussed above, there are many variables that may contribute to an individual needing more than 2000 IU (sun exposure, weight, skin tone, location, food sources, taking supplements with a fat-containing meal, and even some medications).
Superdosing at even higher levels (50,000+ IU) over short periods of time is also used.
Vitamin D levels are assessed most commonly by 25-hydroxy vitamin D (25-OH vitamin D).
This is the form stored in the liver – and most indicative of sufficiency and the last three months of exposure and intake. When health professionals measure vitamin D, this is the lab test that they order.
Normal Vitamin D Level
Optimal levels of the D3 marker for a healthy body start at 30-50 ng/mL.
Some experts suggest aiming for 40-80 ng/mL to fully support all vitamin D functions. Personally, I recommend maintaining levels in the 50-70 ng/mL range.
Unfortunately, normal lab ranges may consider levels as low as 20 ng/mL to be acceptable, while natural health professionals recommend higher levels for optimal health.
Studies show that even modest sufficiency levels can reduce the risk of all-cause mortality (6).
My favorite uses of D3 include promoting bone health, reducing inflammation, and boosting immunity, as well as supporting cellular health overall.
While other benefits have been discussed, such as improved brain and cardiovascular health, I find the evidence most compelling for these three core areas.
1.) Vitamin D3 and K2 – the power to strengthen bones
You may already know that Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium for bone and teeth health. But did you know that its effectiveness depends on synergy with other vitamins and hormones in your body (7)?
Many studies overlook Vitamin D3’s complex dynamics and only focus on individual variables.
Without this complete picture, bones can become more brittle or calcium can find its way into unwanted tissues, such as kidneys or arteries.
That’s why it’s essential to pair Vitamin D3 with Vitamin K2, which activates proteins that direct calcium to your bones, away from your arteries. In fact, a deficiency in both D3 and K2 can increase the risk of death from all causes by 42-46% (8).
Don’t settle for mixed results in bone health studies. Take a comprehensive approach with Vitamin D3 and K2 combination, ideal for keeping your levels in the recommended 50-70 ng/mL range.
Vitamin A is also a valuable partner for maintaining strong bones and a healthy immune system.
The combination I turn to most is MegaQuinD3 by Microbiome Labs.
All of the fat-soluble vitamins work together in various ways for immune health, bone health, cardiovascular, and antioxidant roles.
For those that are also in need of vitamin A, I go with Vitamin A D K Complete – be mindful of combined sources of vitamin A from other supplements as it can have liver toxicity above 8000 IU/day. It is more common to overdose on Vitamin A than D3 – most commonly a result of eating organ meats like liver that can be very rich in vitamin A naturally.
I’ll consider lower D3 intake if an individual is looking to maintain blood levels already in a normal range, or if they have combined intake from multiple supplements.
Likewise, I’ll consider additional D3 intake if the 5000IU levels in the supplements is not helping to raise blood values.
In those instances, I would use additional Vitamin D3 5000 to get to 10,000 IU per day. Individual circumstances vary.
For maintenance at 2000 IU/day of D3 and 150 mcg of vitamin K2-7, check out D3 + K2-7 by Vital Nutrients.
2.) Vitamin D Immune System and Inflammatory Benefits
Immune balance and inflammation may seem like opposites, but they’re two sides of the same coin.
Inflammation is the body’s reaction to injury or invaders, and immune cells play a crucial role in both healing and defense. Vitamin D, known as the “referee” between immune responses, promotes immune balance to keep the body healthy and functioning properly.
Many cells within the immune system contain vitamin D receptors. Vitamin D3 is a vital component of immune health, promoting regulatory immune cells while suppressing inflammatory ones. This helps to regulate genes involved in immune cell production, leading to healthier immune responses and a role in autoimmune diseases (9).
In this way, vitamin D can help immune responses and deficiencies can be linked to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, type I diabetes, autoimmune thyroiditis, Addison’s disease, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) (10; 11).
D3 plays a role in maintaining the integrity of the gut lining (14). If you have intestinal issues, you may be sacrificing your vitamin D3 absorption, which in turn leads to more inflammation and a weakened gut lining.
This vicious cycle can wreak havoc on your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to seasonal immune challenges.
It’s known generally to support healthy responses to viruses (15). In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was demonstrated that patients taking vitamin D3 had significantly less incidence of infection and less mortality (16).
Beyond COVID-19, A meta-analysis reviewing over 10,000 subjects taking D3 supplements regularly showed 12% fewer instances of acute respiratory infections (17).
Vitamin D3 supplementation can also help in cases of arthritis, whether due to an attack by our immune system (like rheumatoid arthritis) or overuse/degeneration (18).
There are a number of causes of inflammation, but at a baseline, I like to make sure levels of D3 and omega-3 fatty acids are sufficient. Most people are deficient in both.
Vitamin D3 support, often alongside a fish oil like Omega Complete, are my favorite baseline approaches to support inflammation naturally. Most adults are simply not getting enough of both supplements.
One 3-month randomized clinical trial demonstrated a combined benefit on insulin levels and inflammation when using fish oil and vitamin D3 together (19).
3.) D3 Benefits – Vitamin D and Cancer Development
Vitamin D has receptors on many types of cells and tissues. It may support healthy cell health by a number of mechanisms including anti-inflammatory support (20).
Vitamin D deficiency and variation in vitamin D receptor genes have been correlated with Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to an increased risk of colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers (21; 22; 23).
This correlation is more prevalent in northern latitudes where sun exposure is limited, and in individuals with darker skin, both of which elevate the risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in balancing your immune system’s strength.
A 6-month clinical trial showed that taking just 800 IU of D3 can significantly improve cancer-related inflammatory markers including drops in C-reactive protein (32%), TNF-alpha (13%), IL-6 (32%), IL-1Beta (50%), IL-8 (15%), and overall inflammation (77%) (24).
Plus, research suggests that increasing your D3 level by just 1 ng/mL can lead to a 1% increase in cancer survival (25).
Other Vitamin D Benefits
Beyond its well-known role in promoting healthy bones, there are numerous other benefits to be gained from taking a Vitamin D supplement.
- Men may experience a boost in testosterone and related hormones, while women deficient in Vitamin D may see improvements in pre-menstrual symptoms and mood markers (26; 27; 28; 29; 30; 31; 32).
- Additionally, some studies suggest that Vitamin D3 supplementation can lead to better insulin dynamics, potentially improving insulin resistance (33; 34).
- Individuals with fibromyalgia may also find relief through the support of Vitamin D, as research has shown a reduction in pain perception and improved lifestyle impact after supplementation (35; 36; 37).
- Moreover, Vitamin D sufficiency has been linked to a significant decrease in cardiovascular and all-cause mortality (38) including one study that reported an average of 43% (32-52%) less incidence of cardiometabolic disorders (39).
Best Vitamin D Supplement
I use MegaQuinD3, or when vitamin A intake is a concern, Vitamin A D K Complete.
Anyone taking more than 2000 IU/day of D3 alone or in combination with other supplements should have their levels measured every 3 months. For a 2000 IU maintenance source, check out K2-7 + D3 by Vital Nutrients.
With so many established and potential benefits, it’s no wonder that maintaining proper levels of Vitamin D is essential for optimal health.