The human body naturally produces vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight. It is most commonly known for contributing to the function of the immune system (EFSA, 2010). If you wish to know more about vitamin D or want to ensure you are getting enough into your daily life, this guide will reveal all. Read on to discover absolutely everything worth knowing about vitamin D.
How does the body produce Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a nutrient derived from food sources, but it’s also a hormone that the body produces. When released into the body, it helps the healthy absorption and retention of calcium, which is essential for building bone strength.
Besides aiding with proper bone and muscle mass, Vitamin D has shown great importance in supporting the function of the immune system.
So, how does the body produce this fat-soluble vitamin? Through the body first. The human body has Vitamin D receptors, which ensures that the production of this vitamin is triggered through the food we eat, or the sunlight the skin absorbs.
However, here is the sad truth; not many foods contain Vitamin D. This doesn’t mean that there are no healthy food options that are naturally fortified with Vitamin D. However, relying solely on such foods may trigger efficiency if the body is not making the recommended amounts. That’s why Vitamin D tablets are highly essential.
Vitamin D tablets are usually available as Vitamin D2 which is ergocalciferol and Vitamin D3 also known as cholecalciferol. The former is a pre-vitamin D form produced in plants and fungi while D3 naturally forms in humans and animals. Both D2 and D3 are also naturally produced when the body is exposed to sunlight. To be specific, only ultraviolet-b (UVB) rays produce this essential vitamin.
Vitamin D production via skin absorption is one of the most natural ways the body stocks up on this sunshine vitamin. However, for people who live in colder climates, or places where sunshine is limited, insufficient levels of vitamin D are imminent. People who spend most of their time indoors are equally at risk of Vitamin D deficiencies.
To boost vitamin D production, it’s essential to eat foods like oily fish; salmon, sardines, herring, and mackerel. Eating red meat, eggs, vitamin D fortified cereal non-dairy milk, and fat spreads can also help boost the production of vitamin D in the body. However, the amount of vitamin D these foods can give is limited. When coupled with inadequate exposure to UVB rays, it’s very important that most people take a vitamin D supplement.
We find that most manufacturers of infant formulas, milk, cereals and fat spreads are mandated to include vitamin D by law.
How long should you stay in the sun?
Absorption of Vitamin D via UVB rays is one of the most natural ways the body benefits from this nutrient. Many people can develop Vitamin D when exposed to the sun every day for just a short period. When the arms, legs, and hands are uncovered without any topical protection (sunscreen) this allows easy absorption of Vitamin D.
The best time to benefit from healthy amounts of UVB rays is between 11 am to 3 pm in the daytime. Plus, the best months to bask in the sun are usually from April to September when the sun actually comes out more often. However, there’s a challenge to this theory, as scientists have not agreed on the adequate amount of time each person should safely stay under the sun. In other words, there’s no exact time limit that can be used to measure the adequate amounts of vitamin D the body receives.
The reason is simple, there are different factors that influence how vitamin D is produced. For one, your skin colour may be a major reason for vitamin D deficiencies. People with darker skin, especially those from Africa, Asia, Africa-Caribbean regions, tend to have lower blood levels of vitamin D. That is because the melanin pigment is like a shade; it protects the skin by preventing normal absorption of sunlight. This is an advantage when reducing the effects of damage due to exposure to sun rays.
However, this means that vitamin D production will equally be hindered because of this fact. So, someone who has more melanin will have to spend a longer period in the sun compared to a lighter person who has less melanin. Here’s the tricky part, staying under the sun for too long can cause sunburns or reddening.
So it’s best to cover up and go indoors after a while, especially if the sun becomes too hot. Plus, the dangerous effects of the sun vary from person to person. Cancer Research UK gives more insight into which category of people are more susceptible to sunburns and skin cancer. Just remember, the longer the skin is exposed to the sun, the more damage it’s likely to cause.
Plus, the damage doesn’t end right after you have found shade or gone indoors. There’s still the aftermath of that exposure even hours after you have left the sun. So, it’s better to step out with the right protective products. SPF sunscreen, long but light clothing, and wrap-around sunglasses are some of the things everyone should have all through the day.
Is it possible to take too much vitamin D?
Vitamin D is one major supplement/nutrient that is recommended for everyone, regardless of age. However, what’s more important is taking the right dose. Vitamin D supplements that contain up to 10 micrograms should be adequate for most people. Taking more than this recommended amount could be dangerous to the body. Just like any food or drug, taking adequate amounts is the best way to reap the benefits of this vitamin.
The same dosage applies to pregnant women, nursing mothers, children from 11-17, and the elderly.
Children from one to ten should not be given more than 50 micrograms per day while babies should have not more than 25 micrograms. It’s equally important to check with your doctor before taking a vitamin D supplement. People with certain medical conditions may be advised to take lower amounts of this supplement to avoid any adverse effects.
How is the dosage measured?
The quantity of vitamin D in supplements may be expressed differently. A brand may choose to express the measurements in international units (IU). In this case, 40 international units are equal to 1 microgram of vitamin D.
Who should take vitamin D?
People of different ages need vitamin D to lead a healthy and strong life. However, various people require different amounts. Taking too much or too little can cause adverse health conditions.
First of all, children who are below 6 months should not be placed in open environments in exposure to direct sunlight. Their skin is still too delicate. When the sun starts shining more from March to October, it’s advisable that all children wear comfortable yet suitable clothing. This involves wearing wrap-around glasses, hats, and clothing that protects the skin from burns.
It’s also important to encourage such kids to stay under the shade, especially around noon and just before it gets dark. Infants and children should take vitamin D supplements whether they play out in the sun or not.
Infants that are up to a year old that don’t take up to 550ml of formula should be given a vitamin D supplement.
Kids that are aged 1-4 years old should also take a high-quality supplement for healthy growth of the bones. And lastly, people who don’t get enough sunlight due to weather conditions or the nature of their work need to supplement with vitamin D tablets. This also includes people who are being hospitalized for long periods, housebound, institutionalized, or those that constantly wear protective clothes that cover almost the entire body when outside.
Regardless of these categories, everyone over the age of 5 should take a daily supplement that contains up to 10 micrograms of this vital vitamin. Even pregnant women and nursing mothers are encouraged to take supplements containing vitamin D as this benefits both mother and child. You can choose to order vitamin D from a reliable brand or get vitamin drops (for infants) from a trusted pharmacy/store.
It’s also important to remember that using sunbeds as a way to absorb or produce vitamin D is not safe or recommendable.
In countries where there’s not much sunlight in the winter, the skin may not be able to produce enough vitamin D. This is because winter sunlight does not have adequate UVB for absorption. From October when the weather starts getting extra chilly to March when the rain ushers spring in, it’s best to supplement. It’s crucial to eat vitamin D-rich or fortified foods to ensure you are getting adequate meals daily.
There you have it – everything worth knowing about the powerful vitamin D. We hope you found this guide helpful and now have everything you need to safeguard your intake!