The Bone Nutrients: Vitamin D

Even though calcium tends to steal the spotlight when it comes to bone-healthy nutrients, vitamin D is just as important for building and maintaining strong bones! Vitamin D improves your body’s ability to absorb calcium in your gut so that it can reach your bones. If you are deficient in vitamin D, you will only absorb a fraction of the calcium you consume, which can lead to calcium deficiency as well. When your calcium and vitamin D levels dip too low, your body will begin to pull calcium from your bones in an effort to maintain your blood calcium levels in the normal range, which can weaken your bones over time!

In addition to helping your body absorb and process calcium, vitamin D has also been associated with improved muscle strength and in some cases, a decreased risk of falling.

How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?

It probably comes as no surprise to find out that we do a poor job of getting the recommended amount of vitamin D. Several studies have shown that at least 40-50% of the population is walking around with vitamin D deficiency!

The RDA of vitamin D for both men and women varies by age, but is generally around 800 IU daily. The safe “upper limit” for vitamin D intake is 4000 IU, unless otherwise directed by your medical provider. If you have been diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency, you may need much higher doses for a period of time to boost your levels back to normal. A typical dosing regimen for vitamin D deficiency is 50,000 IU weekly for 8 weeks, followed by a maintenance dose of to 800-1000 IU daily. Taking too much vitamin D can increase your risk of kidney stones and certain cancers including pancreatic and prostate cancer.

  • Normal vitamin D levels are greater than 30 ng/mL
  • Vitamin D insufficiency (mildly low levels which may impact your health) is when your levels are between 21-29 ng/mL
  • Vitamin D deficiency (moderate to severely low levels that are likely to impact your health) is when your levels are less than 20 ng/mL

Helpful Hints For Meetings Your Vitamin D Needs

The sun is your primary source of vitamin D. The amount of time you need to spend in the sun to get enough vitamin D varies based on the time of year, and your skin tone. During the summer, you may need as little as a few minutes for a fair skinned person who is exposed to midday sun vs. 30-60 minutes for a dark skinned person under these same conditions. During the winter, the sun might not be strong enough to produce vitamin D for several months!

There are several foods that contain vitamin D, but it can be difficult to get enough vitamin D through food sources alone. Many people will require vitamin D supplements.

Vitamin D3 and vitamin D2 are both perfectly acceptable forms of vitamin D. Some studies indicate that vitamin D3 may improve your vitamin D levels more efficiently than vitamin D2, but the difference is minimal.

Vitamin D Deficiency Has Been Associated With These Health Conditions

  • Osteoporosis
  • Dementia
  • Rickets
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Psoriasis
  • Autoimmune Diseases
  • Muscle weakness

Vitamin D and Your Bones

The combination of calcium and vitamin D is important when it comes to maintaining strong bones. Calcium is the primary building block for healthy bones, whereas vitamin D allows your body to fully utilize calcium. Let’s take a look at some of the key research findings over the past several years.

  • Vitamin D with calcium MAY decrease your risk of breaking bones. Three large collections of studies which included over 150,000 people showed that vitamin D supplementation of at least 600 IU daily may decrease your risk of breaking bones by 12-37%! However, a separate large study including over 36,000 people showed that supplementing vitamin D 400 IU daily did not reduce fracture risk. This means that your dose of vitamin D will need to be at least 600 IU daily  before you will see a reduced risk of breaking bones.
  • Vitamin D with calcium can slow bone loss over time. A large study consisting of over 36,000 patients between the ages of 50 and 79 were given calcium and vitamin D supplements over a 7 year period to determine the effect that these supplements had on bone health. This study showed patients who took calcium and vitamin D lost 1.06% less hip bone over time compared to patients who did not take vitamin D.

What conclusions can we draw from these studies? The combination of calcium and vitamin D is one of our primary weapons in osteoporosis prevention and treatment. People of all ages should make sure their daily intake is sufficient to meet their needs. For those with a low risk of breaking bones, calcium with vitamin D may prevent osteoporosis and be the only required treatment! For others with a high fracture risk, these supplements should be one piece of a multi-faceted approach to treating osteoporosis.

How Can You Get More Vitamin D Through Your Diet?

The best source of vitamin D outside of supplements is cod liver oil, which has a whopping 1360 IU of vitamin D in each tablespoon! The only issue is that few people would likely be able to stomach the taste… Check out the list below to see other (more appetizing) foods which contain vitamin D!

  • Salmon (3 ounces): 465 IU
  • Mackerel (3 ounces): 211 IU
  • Sardines (3 ounces): 164 IU
  • Instant Oatmeal (1 packet): 154 IU
  • Orange Juice (8 ounces): 100 IU
  • Fortified Milk (8 ounces): 98 IU
  • Fortified Cereal (1 cup): 50 IU
  • Egg Yolk (1 large): 37 IU