Vitamin-D Natural Supplement Health Benefits
scientific studies about vitamin D, cholecalciferol, and calcium
in our large health database. We also recommend the excellent article on
About Calcium and Bone Health available here at Level1Diet.com.
What is Vitamin D?
Forms of Vitamin D
- Vitamin D1: molecular compound of ergocalciferol with lumisterol, 1:1
- Vitamin D2: ergocalciferol or calciferol (made from ergosterol)
- Vitamin D3: cholecalciferol (made from 7-dehydrocholesterol)
- Vitamin D4: 22,23-dihydroergocalciferol
- Vitamin D5: sitocalciferol (made from 7-dehydrositosterol)
Overview About Vitamin DVitamin D3, also known as cholecalciferol, is the natural human form of vitamin D. It is made in the skin when 7-dehydrocholesterol reacts with ultraviolet light in the skin. Ultraviolet light (specifically UVB, with wavelengths 290 to 315 nm, found in sunlight when the sun is high enough above the horizon for UVB to penetrate the atmosphere) is responsible for the production of cholecalciferol. Up to 20,000 IU can be made in the skin after one minimal erythemal dose of exposure, or until the skin just begins to turn pink. Vitamin D2 is derived by irradiating fungi to produce ergocalciferol. Ergocalciferol does not naturally occur in the human body unless it is added by supplementation. In the rat, D2 is more effective than D3, and in the squirrel monkey and the chick, D3 is more effective. In humans, D3 is more effective than D2 by increasing 25-hydroxyvitamin D, the circulating reservoir of the vitamin D hormone.
In certain parts of the world, particularly at higher latitudes, total vitamin D input is usually not sufficient, especially in the winter, thus the recent concern about widespread vitamin D deficiency. To help prevent this possibility, foods such as milk may be fortified with vitamin D2 or vitamin D3, typically giving 100 IU per glass.
A severe deficiency of vitamin D leads to rickets in children, which is a softening of the bones owing to faulty mineralization, and a similar condition in adults, osteomalacia. Recent medical studies also associate vitamin D deficiency with everything from most forms of cancer, to heart disease, depression, diabetes, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, periodontal disease, and even obesity.
Cholecalciferol is transported to the liver where it is hydroxylated to calcidiol or 25-hydroxy-vitamin D, the storage form of the vitamin. A blood calcidiol level is the only way to determine vitamin D deficiency; levels should be between 40 and 60 ng/mL (100 to 150 nMol/L) for optimum health.
The most active form of the vitamin is calcitriol (1,25 dihydroxy vitamin D3), a potent hormone. Calcitriol is synthesized from calcidiol in the kidneys to perform its endocrine function of maintaining the calcium economy. Calcitriol binds to a transcription factor which then regulates gene expression of transport proteins like TRPV6 and calbindin that are involved in calcium absorption in the intestine. The general outcome is the maintenance of calcium and phosphorus levels in the bone and blood with the assistance of parathyroid hormone and calcitonin.
A number of tissues throughout the human body also have the ability to make and regulate their own calcitriol. It is these autocrine and paracrine functions of the vitamin D system that may explain its association with a host of chronic diseases.
Diseases Related to Vitamin DVitamin D deficiency is known to cause several bone diseases, due to insufficient calcium or phosphate in the bones:
- Rickets: a childhood disease characterized by failure of growth and deformity of long bones.
- Osteoporosis: a condition characterized by fragile bones.
- Osteomalacia: a bone-thinning disorder in adults that is characterised by proximal muscle weakness and bone fragility. Osteomalacia can only occur in a mature skeleton.
Vitamin D malnutrition or cholecalciferon deficiency may possibly be linked to chronic diseases such as cancer (breast cancer, ovarian cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer and skin cancer and probably a dozen more types), chronic pain, weakness, chronic fatigue, autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and Type 1 diabetes, high blood pressure, mental illnesses (depression, seasonal affective disorder and possibly schizophrenia) heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, tuberculosis, periodontal disease and inflammatory bowel disease.
Who May Need Extra Vitamin D To Prevent A Deficiency
Older people (greater than age 50) have a higher risk of developing vitamin D deficiency. The ability of skin to convert 7-dehydrocholesterol to pre-vitamin D3 is decreased in older people. The kidneys, which help convert calcidiol to its active form, sometimes do not work as well when people age. Therefore, many older people may need vitamin D supplementation.
Newborn infants who are exclusively breastfed may require vitamin D supplements. Breast milk does not contain significant levels of the vitamin, and although infants could receive this vitamin from sunlight, it is usually not recommended that small infants be exposed to sunlight in the levels required to produce a sufficient amount of vitamin D. Infant formula is generally fortified with vitamin D, so this requirement only applies to breastfed infants.
There is also evidence that obese people have lower levels of the circulating form of vitamin D, probably because it is deposited in body fat compartments and is less bioavailable, so obese people whose vitamin D production and/or intake is marginal or inadequate are at higher risk of deficiency.
Those who avoid or are not exposed to summer midday sunshine may also require Vitamin D supplements. In particular, recent studies have shown Australians and New Zealanders are Vitamin D deficient, particularly after the successful "Slip-Slop-Slap" health campaign encouraging Australians to cover up when exposed to sunlight to prevent skin cancer. Ironically, a vitamin D deficiency may also lead to skin cancer. Still, only a few minutes of exposure (probably 6 times more in dark-skinned people) is all that is required; the production is very rapid.
There is no recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin D in North America. Adults taking vitamin D in vitamin pills containing 5 micrograms (200 IU) per day are not protected against vitamin D deficiency -- even though 200 IU/day is the adequate intake officially recommended up to age 50 years. Currently, the general public is advised that the safety of vitamin D intake cannot be assured beyond 50 micrograms/day (2000 IU/day). Despite a widespread recognition that current official advice to the public about vitamin D is out of date, the process for revising recommendations like the RDA has stopped, apparently for budgetary reasons. Vitamin D dietary guidelines are among the next in line for reassessment by the Food and Nutrition Board in North America.
Patients with chronic liver disease or intestinal malabsorption may require larger doses of vitamin D (up to 40,000 IU or 1 mg (1000 micrograms) daily). To maintain blood levels of calcium, therapeutic vitamin D doses are sometimes administered (up to 100,000 IU or 2.5 mg daily) to patients who have had their parathyroid glands removed (most commonly renal dialysis patients who have had tertiary hyperparathyroidism, but also patients with primary hyperparathyroidism) or who suffer with hypoparathyroidism. Long-term intake of these doses would be toxic in normal human beings.
Where to Buy Vitamin D3
Vitamin-D3 Cholecalciferol: 5000 IU per Capsule for adults and 1000 IU for children
What does "IU" mean in milligrams? Some vitamins are measured in International Units, or IU. Vitamin E and Vitamin D3 are two of these vitamins. Officially, 1 IU of Vitamin D3 is the equivalent of 0.025mg. That means the 5,000 IU adult daily dose could also be expressed as 125mg, and the 1,000 IU child dose as only 25mg. The use of "IU" is merely a conventional way of describing the dose, but milligrams or "mg" could also be used.
Consult your physician as usual before adding this vitamin to your daily regimen. People who have chronic diseases like diabetes, arthritis, cancer or heart disease, or who suffer from AIDS or other immune conditions may consider taking Vitamin D3 supplements all during the year. Also people who live well above the 35th parallels in the Southern Hemisphere or Northern Hemisphere may consider taking this supplement all through the year, regardless of their current health status.
Where to Buy: We recommend for adults the 5000IU size Now Foods Vitamin D3, 240 capsules - about $9.46, or our recommended Children's Dose NOW Foods Vitamin D-3 1000 IU, 360 Softgels - about $7.97. Now Foods is a respected national brand, and these are terrific low prices from Amazon.com. The large 240 capsule bottle contains an 8 month supply for one adult, and the 360 count bottle of the 1000IU contains about almost a year's supply for one child.
Human Skin Production Of Vitamin D3Vitamin D3 is produced in the skin by conversion of 7-dehydrocholesterol by UVB. Human skin exposed to sunlight can, under the right conditions, produce quantities as large as 20,000 IU in just a few minutes without any apparent toxicity. This is easily enough to avoid deficiency and builds up the body's stores.
Exposure to sunlight also destroys vitamin D, so long term exposure to sunlight cannot cause toxicity, as levels are self-adjusting.
However merely being exposed to sunlight does not automatically mean that vitamin D is produced, only the UVB in sunlight triggers vitamin D production, but UVB mainly reaches ground level when the sun is high in the sky. This occurs a few hours around solar midday (1 pm summertime). At higher latitudes, the sun is only high enough in the sky in summer. For example, in the United States, those living north of a line from San Francisco to Philadelphia (about 40 degrees of latitude) will not be able to produce it in significant quantities for 3 to 6 months a year.
Therefore from the end of summertime to the following spring humans run on stores which gradually deplete. By some estimates 10-20% of the population become at least mildly deficient by the end of winter, and deficiency is high even in very sunny countries like India. People who never go out in the midday sun become deficient even on supplementation at 100% of the RDA.
In addition, suntan lotion blocks production. Deficiencies are now much more common in Australia, which had a very successful 'slip slop slap' campaign, though most of the deficient people have dark skin, cover up when outdoors or are confined indoors (e.g. elderly preople or those with a disability or serious illness). Melanin screens UVB light so dark skin is much less efficient at generating vitamin D. It would therefore be expected that people with darker skin would suffer from deficiencies more frequently, especially if they live at higher latitudes or have an urban lifestyle, and there is much evidence that this is the case. Vitamin D deficiency and osteomalacia is known to be endemic in dark skinned populations in the UK (particularly those from South Asia).
Oral Overdose Of Vitamin D3Overdose is extremely rare; in fact, mild deficiencies are far more common.
While the sunshine-generated quantity is self-limiting, vitamin pills were thought not to be; and this has led to widespread concern, which may well be misplaced.
In practice, the human body has enormous storage capacity for vitamin D, and in any case all common foods and correctly-formulated vitamin pills contain far too little for overdose to ever occur in normal circumstances and normal doses. Indeed, Stoss therapy involves taking a dose over a thousand times the daily RDA once every few months, and even then often fails to normalise vitamin D3 levels in the body.
However, oral overdose has been recorded due to manufacturing and industrial accidents and leads to hypercalcaemia and atherosclerosis and ultimately death.
The exact long-term safe dose is not entirely known, but intakes of up to 2000 IU (10x the RDA) are believed to be safe, and some researchers believe that 10,000 IU does not lead to long term overdose. It seems that there are chemical processes that destroy excess vitamin D, even when taken orally, although these processes have not been identified (in experiments blood levels of vitamin D do not continue to increase over many months at these doses as presumably would be needed for toxicity to occur.)
Note that although normal food and pill vitamin D concentration levels are too low to be toxic, cod-liver oil, if taken in multiples of the normal dose, could reach poisonous levels because of the high vitamin A content in cod-liver oil -- not the vitamin D.
Vitamin D And Cancer Prevention And RecoveryRecent research suggests that cancer patients who have their surgery/treatment in the summer - and therefore get more vitamin D - have a much better chance of surviving the disease than those who have their treatment in the winter when they are exposed to less sunlight. 
In 2005, U.S. scientists released a study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, which seems to demonstrate a beneficial corelation between Vitamin D intake and prevention of cancer. Drawing from their review of 63 old studies, the scientists claimed that taking 1,000 international units (IU) - or 25 micrograms - of the vitamin daily could lower an individual's cancer risk by 50% in colon cancer, and by 30% in breast and ovarian cancer. Cancer experts, however, say that much further research is needed to provide concrete proof about Vitamin D's ability to prevent cancer.
Vitamin D Food SourcesFortified foods are the major dietary sources of vitamin D. Prior to the fortification of milk products in the 1930s, rickets was a major public health problem. In the United States milk is fortified with 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D per quart, and rickets is now uncommon in the US.
One cup of vitamin D fortified milk supplies about one-fourth of the official estimated adequate intake of vitamin for adults older than age 50 years. Although milk is fortified with vitamin D, dairy products made from milk (cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc.) are generally not. Only a few foods naturally contain significant amounts of vitamin D, including:
- Fish liver oils, such as cod liver oil, 1 Tbs. (15 ml), 1,360 IU
- Fatty fish, such as:
- Salmon, cooked, 3.5 oz, 360 IU
- Mackerel, cooked, 3.5 oz, 345 IU
- Sardines, canned in oil, drained, 3.5 oz, 270 IU
- Eel, cooked, 3.5 oz, 200 IU
- One whole egg, 25 IU
- Beef liver, cooked, 3ï¿½ ounces 15 IU
- One (100% RDA) vitamin pill, 200 IU
Sources: National Institutes of Health, National Osteoporosis Society
Synthesis of Vitamin D3Vitamin D3 is synthesized from 7-dehydrocholesterol, a derivative of cholesterol, which is then photolyzed by ultraviolet light in 6-electron conrotatory electrocyclic reaction. The product is Previtamin D 3.
Previtamin D3 then spontaneously isomerizes to Vitamin D3 in a antarafacial hydride [1,7]Sigmatropic shift.
Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is then hydroxylated in the liver to 25-hydroxycholecalciferol (calcidiol) and stored until it is needed. 25-hydroxycholecalciferol is further hydroxylated in the kidneys to the main biologically active form 1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol (calcitriol) in a tightly regulated fashion:
Vitamin D References:
- Coates, M. E. (1968). "Requirements of different species for vitamins". Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 27 (2): 143-148.
- Laurance, Jeremy, "Revealed: the pill that prevents cancer", The Independent, 28 December 2005.
- Caryl A Nowson and Claire Margerison (2002). "Vitamin D intake and vitamin D status of Australians". The Medical Journal of Australia 177 (3): 149-152.
- "Vitamin D 'aids lung cancer ops'", BBC News, 22 April 2005. URL accessed on 23 March 2006.
- "Vitamin D 'can lower cancer risk'", BBC News, 28 December 2005. URL accessed on 23 March 2006.
- Grant WB (2002). "An estimate of premature cancer mortality in the U.S. due to inadequate doses of solar ultraviolet-B radiation". Cancer 94 (6): 1867-75.
- Holick MF (2004). "Vitamin D: importance in the prevention of cancers, type 1 diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis". Am J Clin Nutr 79 (3): 362-71.
- Holick MF (2004). "Sunlight and vitamin D for bone health and prevention of autoimmune diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular disease". Am J Clin Nutr 80 (6 Suppl): 1678S-88S.
- Heaney RP (2004). "Functional indices of vitamin D status and ramifications of vitamin D deficiency". Am J Clin Nutr 80 (6 Suppl): 1706S-9S.
- Holick MF (2005). "The vitamin D epidemic and its health consequences". J Nutr 135 (11): 2739S-48S.
- Moan J, Porojnicu AC, Robsahm TE, Dahlback A, Juzeniene A, Tretli S, Grant W (2005). "Solar radiation, vitamin D and survival rate of colon cancer in Norway". J Photochem Photobiol B 78 (3): 189-93.
- Gorham ED, Garland CF, Garland FC, Grant WB, Mohr SB, Lipkin M, Newmark HL, Giovannucci E, Wei M, Holick MF (2005). "Vitamin D and prevention of colorectal cancer". J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol 97 (1-2): 179-94.
- Grant WB, Holick MF (2005). "Benefits and requirements of vitamin D for optimal health: a review". Altern Med Rev 10 (2): 94-111.
- Zittermann A, Schleithoff SS, Koerfer R (2005). "Putting cardiovascular disease and vitamin D insufficiency into perspective". Br J Nutr 94 (4): 483-92.
- Grant WB (2006). "Lower vitamin-D production from solar ultraviolet-B irradiance may explain some differences in cancer survival rates". J Natl Med Assoc 98 (3): 357-64.
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