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Everything You Need to Know About Vitamin D

Everything You Need to Know About Vitamin D

With work being mostly indoors and skin cancer worries, many of us don’t get enough sunlight to meet the recommended daily amount of vitamin D. Though vitamin D levels can reach toxicity, the chance of that occurring naturally (through sunlight and food) is quite rare; however, it is easy to get vitamin D toxicity from supplements. Though toxicity is rare, it’s important to be aware of it. According to Harvard Health publishing (2019), Vitamin D toxicity “Can cause non-specific symptoms such as anorexia, weight loss, polyuria, and heart arrhythmias. More seriously, it can also raise blood levels of calcium” (2). This can lead to tissue and vascular calcification which can cause damage to the heart, kidneys, and blood vessels. 

Where Can You Find Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is found in very few foods, including fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel) and egg yolks. It’s also present in fortified foods and drinks. The sun is another natural source of vitamin D. When you walk out into the sun, the sun’s energy converts a chemical in your skin into vitamin D3, which is then carried to your liver and transformed into active vitamin D (1). Vitamin D is then used in your body to keep your bones happy and healthy. The recommended dietary allowances for the average 19-50 years old male and female is 15mcg, but this number will vary depending on your age and body needs.

Why Do You Need Vitamin D?

Research has also shown that “[Without] sufficient vitamin D, bones can become thin, brittle, or misshapen. Vitamin D sufficiency prevents rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Together with calcium, vitamin D also helps protect older adults from osteoporosis” (2). As you age, your bones can start to lose density, which can lead to increased chances of bone fractures. Vitamin D and calcium rely on each other as vitamin D helps with calcium absorption. 

In addition, Vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in autoimmune disease as cells of the immune system are capable of synthesizing and responding to vitamin D (3). This shows that if you meet your daily Vitamin D requirements, you have a decreased chance of autoimmune disease. Autoimmune disease is when your immune system attacks your body.

Furthermore, new research has shown, “Vitamin D might play some role in the prevention and treatment of type 1 and type 2 diabetes, hypertension, glucose intolerance, multiple sclerosis, and other medical conditions” (2). 

Where Does The Mediterranean Diet Come In?

The Mediterranean diet is characterized by a high consumption of plant foods, low to moderate intakes of fish, poultry, dairy products and wine, and a low amount of red meat (4). Extra virgin olive oil is one of the main sources of fat in the Mediterranean Diet. Along with Vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin, it can help with adequate vitamin and mineral absorption in your body. One study on healthy Spanish women reported that the Mediterranean diet is positively associated with bone mineral density (BMD) (4). Another study showed that adherence to the Mediterranean diet is related to the longevity of Mediterranean people (4).

So next time when you are having breakfast, lunch, or dinner, feel free to mix in some fish (high in Vitamin D), plant foods, and extra virgin olive oil.

Written by Mandy Zhen
Reviewed by Kelly Powers, MA, RDN, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who takes a holistic approach to nutrition and health. Kelly is a recipe developer with a food blog highlighting whole foods, simple recipes, and her life in San Francisco. She’s the creator of 52 Weeks, a weekly meal plan program that helps users get back in the kitchen and feed themselves well. Kelly is also a co-founder of Olivaio.