Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is a fat-soluble vitamin that is important for our overall health and plays a role in many different aspects of our health. Vitamin D is used in our bodies to keep bones strong, support mental health and improve sleep, among many other functions. Our bodies make vitamin D through sun exposure, which is why it is nicknamed the sunshine vitamin. Natural nutritional sources are egg yolks, fatty fish and seafood such as salmon, tuna, and shrimp. There are few naturally occurring sources of vitamin D, so other dietary sources are fortified with vitamin D. These include dairy products, almond milk, tofu, and orange juice.
Vitamin D is one of many vitamins needed in the body. It plays a role in balancing calcium between blood and bones. The body uses vitamin D to make cellular energy. It also has a role in balancing mood and hormones and plays a role in regulating insulin and blood sugar levels.
The incidence of vitamin D deficiency is increasing. According to the National Institutes of Health, almost 1 in 4 adults in the United States are deficient in vitamin D. Where you live plays a significant role in the amount of vitamin D that can be produced through sunlight exposure. Living in the midwest, we are further from the equator and have less sunlight in winter, blocking our ability to get enough sunlight exposure. People of color are also at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency. The melanin that provides pigment to the skin blocks UV absorption and disrupts the production of vitamin D.
Screening for vitamin D deficiency occurs through a simple blood test. Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency depend on how severe the deficiency is. Many individuals with vitamin D deficiency show no symptoms. Others experience fatigue, poor sleep, bone pain, body aches, depression, hair thinning or loss, muscle weakness, decreased appetite or decreased immunity.
Most individuals will benefit from vitamin D supplementation. There are currently two types of supplements, D2 and D3. Vitamin D3 is more bioavailable, meaning absorbed into your system more effectively. Vitamin D3 is available over the counter, without a prescription. Vitamin D2 is a prescription of a higher concentration to be taken weekly. Vitamin D is fat soluble, so it is best to take them with food to increase absorption. Depending on the level of deficiency, it can take several months to fully correct vitamin D deficiency.
Although rare, it is possible to over-supplement with vitamin D. These symptoms include heart palpitations, nausea, excessive thirst and kidney stones. Make sure to reach out to your medical provider if you have concerns regarding vitamin D deficiency as well as to discuss a supplement protocol that is best for you.
Overall, people in our midwest climate especially during the winter months should be aware of their symptoms and work with their healthcare provider to choose a supplement or determine a nutritional and sunshine exposure plan to promote their health.
~Emily Roling, FNP-BC and Macy Gudenkauf, DNP