Caffeine is a part of the breakfast meal of many Americans. Many also take a multivitamin supplement daily as a part of their morning routine. Not many people are aware that taking vitamins at the same time as a cup of coffee or tea can interfere with the body’s absorption of many necessary nutrients.
Caffeine causes calcium to be excreted in the urine and feces. For every 150 mg of caffeine ingested, about the amount in one cup of coffee, 5 mg of calcium is lost. This effect occurs even hours after the consumption of caffeine. One study of postmenopausal women found that those who consumed more than 300 mg of caffeine lost more bone in the spine than women who consumed less.
Caffeine also inhibits the amount of calcium that is absorbed through the intestinal tract and depletes the amount retained by the bones. Studies have shown that women with high caffeine intake suffer more hip fractures than those who avoid caffeine or drink in moderation (1 to 2 cups per day).
Caffeine inhibits vitamin D receptors, which limit the amount that will be absorbed. Because vitamin D is important in the absorption and use of calcium in building bone, this could also decrease bone mineral density, resulting in an increased risk for osteoporosis.
Caffeine interferes with the body’s absorption of iron, which is necessary for red blood cell production. Drinking caffeine at the same time as an iron source can reduce absorption by up to 80%, according to the Nutrition Desk Reference. Any beverage containing caffeine should be separated from iron-containing foods or supplements by at least one hour.
Caffeine has a mild diuretic effect, which increases urination. Water soluble vitamins, such as the B-vitamins, can be depleted as a result of the fluid loss. In addition, it interferes with the metabolism of some B-vitamins, such as thiamine (vitamin B1). The one exception to this rule appears to be vitamin B12. Caffeine stimulates the production of stomach acid, which actually helps the body absorb B12.
Other Vitamins and Minerals
Caffeine may reduce the absorption of manganese, zinc and copper. It also increases the excretion of the minerals magnesium, potassium, sodium and phosphate. There is also evidence that caffeine interferes with the action of vitamin A.
Sources of Caffeine
Coffee and tea are obvious sources of caffeine. Even decaffeinated versions contain a little residual caffeine. Other sources include soft drinks, chocolate, cocoa and some energy drinks. Some supplements and medications, such as those that promote wakefulness, along with pain relievers for headaches, contain caffeine anhydrous, which is the dried, powdery form of caffeine. Dietary supplements sometimes use a natural ingredient called guarana, which is another form of caffeine.
A cup of coffee or green tea a day is not likely to have a negative effect on your overall health. However, in excess, caffeine can cause nutrient deficiencies that can affect both health and quality of life. As with most dietary factors, moderation and balance are key in optimal nutrition intake.
Vitamin D-3 is one of the two most common forms of vitamin D, the other being vitamin D-2. Your body usually synthesizes vitamin D-3 through exposure to sunlight, while vitamin D-2 comes most often from supplements. As both vitamins D-2 and D-3 function similarly in the body, they are frequently referred to collectively as vitamin D.
Forms of Vitamin D
Your body produces vitamin D-3, also known as cholecalciferol, when your skin is exposed directly to sunlight. Vitamin D-2, or ergocalciferol, is created when plants are exposed to sunlight, and this is the form of vitamin D most commonly used for supplements. Your liver and kidneys need to process both vitamin D-2 and vitamin D-3 before it becomes the usable form of vitamin D, calcitriol.
Vitamin D Upper Limits
When making vitamin D-3, your body will automatically stop producing the vitamin if you have enough in your system, so it is difficult to have too much vitamin D-3. In the case of supplements, as vitamin D is stored in your body fat and liver, taking too many supplements can lead to vitamin D toxicity. The upper limit for children and adults is 4,000 international units (IU) per day. For infants, the upper limit is 1,500 IU. More than this can result in vitamin D toxicity.
Vitamin D Supplements
Vitamin D supplements come in a range of doses. As an independent supplement, meaning only vitamin D, the amounts range from 50 to 1,000 IU per capsule. In the case of a multivitamin, the vitamin D content is around 400 IU per dose. Vitamin D supplements may be recommended for those who require extra calcium in their system, but starting a regime of supplements should only be done under the advisement of a doctor. The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin D is 400 IU for infants; 600 IU for children and adults; and 800 IU for those over the age of 70. For those over 50, more vitamin D may be required, but a doctor should determine the specific dose.
Vitamin D Metabolism
Both forms of vitamin D — D-2 and D-3 — are transported through your body to your liver and kidneys after the vitamin enters your body. In both places, it undergoes the process of hydro-oxygenation, picking up hydrogen and oxygen molecules. Afterward, it becomes calcitriol, which can be used by your body to assist with calcium absorption. Extra vitamin D is stored in your body fat and liver. In the presence of vitamin D, your body will absorb 30 percent to 40 percent of all dietary calcium. Without it, your body absorbs around 10 percent to 15 percent of available calcium.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin D
- MedlinePlus: Vitamin D
- MedlinePlus: Vitamin D – What Is It?
- Harvard Health Publications: Vitamin D and Your Health
Marie Dannie has been a professional journalist since 1991, specializing in nutrition and health topics. She has written for “Woman’s Own,” the “Daily Mail,” the “Daily Mirror” and the “Telegraph.” She is a registered nutritionist and holds a Bachelor of Science degree with honors in food science from the University of Nottingham.
Vitamin D absorption can be maximized by ensuring that your liver and kidneys are functioning properly, getting 10-20 minutes of daily exposure to sunlight and increasing your ingestion of good sources of the vitamin. You can also maximize vitamin D absorption by eating a full, balanced meal when taking supplements and by ensuring that natural fat is present in your diet. Not all of these measures can be taken by everyone wishing to increase absorption of this vitamin. Consideration must be given to your individual case.
The liver and kidneys are where vitamin D synthesis takes place from pre-vitamins D2 and D3, sometimes referred to as calciferol. If your liver and kidneys are not fully functioning, vitamin D absorption will almost always be decreased. It is, therefore, usually a good idea to attend to any problems with your liver and kidneys if you want to or need to maximize synthesis of vitamin D, also known as calcitrol, which in turn maximizes absorption of the nutrient. Sometimes this is accomplished simply by performing an all-natural, effective cleanse of these organs.
Exposure to sunlight not only is a source of the vitamin, it can be considered a way to naturally maximize vitamin D absorption, because if you increase your intake of the vitamin, you generally also will increase absorption of it. There are a few things to keep in mind with this measure as well as a precaution. People who have a skin disease or skin cancer usually should not attempt to increase vitamin D absorption in this way because of the detrimental effect sunlight could have on their skin. Remember that clothing and the use of sunblock can partially or completely hinder your results, so at least some portion of skin to which sunblock has not been applied should be exposed to sunlight.
Eating foods that are rich in vitamin D is probably the most obvious way to increase absorption — the more of the nutrient in the diet, the more that will be absorbed. Good sources include tuna, salmon, cod liver oil, sardines, whole eggs and fat-reduced milk or whole milk. Many people, particularly those who are overweight, choose fat-reduced and fat-free foods, but vitamin D absorption cannot be maximized without the presence of sufficient fat. This is why, when taking a supplement, it is advisable to take it with a full meal that contains some natural fat.
Proper absorption of vitamin D enables your body to in turn absorb calcium, fight infection, and keeps your nervous system and muscles working as they should.
The most natural, direct way to get vitamin D naturally is through sun exposure, but people tend not to get enough sun to produce adequate amounts. Most doctors recommend supplementing it with food.
However, some people have a more difficult time absorbing vitamin D than others, and some medical conditions can make it difficult to absorb Vitamin D from food.
That’s a problem since “not getting enough vitamin D leaves you at risk for bone fractures, osteoporosis, and muscle weakness,” says Melissa Prest, a registered dietitian in the Chicago area and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Learn more about how your body absorbs vitamin D and why some people may have trouble getting enough.
How does your body absorb vitamin D?
The way you absorb vitamin D depends on whether you’re getting it from food or sunlight:
- Food/supplements: After you eat food or take supplements with vitamin D, your body stores it in fat cells until it is needed. At that point, the liver and kidneys transform the stored vitamin D into the active form the body needs – known as calcitriol – via a process called hydroxylation.
- Sunlight: Your body’s process for making vitamin D works similarly after sun exposure. The main difference is that the sun first triggers a type of cholesterol found in the body called 7-dehydrocholesterol. This starts the process of vitamin D production and transport where it moves to the liver and kidneys, much like after you eat foods with vitamin D.
However, not everyone can easily obtain or absorb vitamin D.
Why am I not absorbing enough vitamin D?
There are a few reasons why people can have trouble absorbing vitamin D. Some factors that may reduce or block its absorption include:
- Conditions such as celiac disease,chronic pancreatitis, Crohn’s disease, and cystic fibrosis. These can all affect the intestines, preventing them from absorbing vitamin D found in food.
- BMI (body mass index) higher than 30. Subcutaneous body fat can sequester, or trap, vitamin D, which is why deficiency is a greater concern in those who are obese.
- Liver or kidney disease. Both diseases can negatively affect how your body processes vitamin D. Kidney disease may cause a person to have trouble processing vitamin D to its active form, calcitriol, which is used throughout the body. Some forms of liver disease cause problems with fat absorption, also making it harder to absorb vitamin D.
- Radiation treatment. This type of cancer treatment can make it harder for the intestines to absorb vitamin D.
- Weight loss surgery. These procedures reduce the size of the stomach or bypass part of the small intestine, thus making it harder for the body to consume adequate levels of many vitamins and minerals including vitamin D.
Antonette Hardie, a registered dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Comprehensive Transplant Center, says some medications can also impact or inhibit vitamin D absorption, these include:
Symptoms of low vitamin D levels
Some symptoms of low vitamin D include:
- General fatigue
- Muscle aches
- Mood changes
- Pain in your bones
When using a blood test to measure vitamin D, a normal level is 12 ng/mL to 20 ng/mL for healthy adults. A level less than 12 ng/mL indicates vitamin D deficiency and could be a sign of absorption issues, according to the National Institutes of Health.
If you are concerned about your vitamin D levels, request a blood test from your doctor. There are also at-home tests that require a finger prick for a very small blood sample.
How to absorb more vitamin D
If you have problems absorbing vitamin D, Prests says to try consuming it along with fatty and/or magnesium -rich foods. Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, eating it with fatty foods can help the body to absorb and store it for future use, Prest tells Insider.
Fatty foods that also contain high levels of vitamin D are ideal, she says. These include:
- Cold-water fish, such as salmon
- Egg yolks and higher fat dairy products
Combining vitamin D with magnesium may also help to increase absorption. Foods that are naturally high in magnesium include:
- Pumpkin seeds
Although it is best to try to get your vitamin D from whole foods, there may be times when a prescription supplement is advised.
Health providers typically prescribe a high dose of vitamin D supplement only for a short time to avoid the risk of vitamin D toxicity, Prest says. It is possible to get too much vitamin D, so talk to your doctor about the proper individual dosage of supplements.
Some factors that may inhibit your vitamin D absorption include taking certain medications and conditions such as Crohn’s or kidney disease.
If you have trouble absorbing vitamin D, make sure to eat vitamin D-rich foods alongside fatty or magnesium-rich foods. You may also take a vitamin D supplement if advised to do so by your doctor.
“Working with a registered dietitian nutritionist can help you to ensure that you are getting adequate amounts of vitamin D, especially if you are someone who may be at risk of a vitamin D deficiency ,” Prest says.
Do you wear sunscreen when you step out into the sun? If the answer is “yes of course”, then let us tell you: you might be hampering the penetration of vitamin D. No, we aren’t kidding!
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin which is required by all age groups to keep their body going. More than a vitamin it works like a hormone as it helps with the regulation of genes, improving immunity, and is involved in calcium absorption which is needed for bone and spine health.
While you might be standing in the sun for 20 minutes on a daily basis or even consuming vitamin D supplements—the truth, this doesn’t guarantee that your body is absorbing the dose you are providing.
That’s why we got Amreen Shaikh, head dietician and nutritionist at Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai to guide us through the process of we can ensure our body absorbs vitamin D:
1. The quantity of vitamin D in your supplement matters
Whatever you eat, the quantity matters and so is the case with vitamin D. Ms Shaikh suggests that you need to check for the right dosage of these supplements with their doctor and follow it to the T.
Vitamin D helps in boosting your immunity as well. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
“The timing of taking these supplements also matters for better absorption, and I don’t mean morning or evening. Vitamin D supplements should be taken along with the major meal of the day then whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Taking it with a fruit, tea, coffee, or in-between meals won’t let the absorption happen,” she says.
2. Focus on other nutrients as well
“For better absorption of vitamin D, you must include vitamin K, magnesium, and zinc in your diet. They speed up the absorption procedure and reduce your likelihood of being vitamin D deficient,” she suggests.
3. Eat ghee and healthy oils
If you are on a strict diet and have been avoiding healthy fats, then vitamin D will never be able to penetrate deep in the body. According to Ms Shaikh, ghee or oil taken in moderation will never harm you. And because vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient, it needs healthy fat for better absorption.
Even celebs like Kareena Kapoor and Shilpa Shetty are in Ghee fam. So try ghee FTW girls! Image courtesy: Shutterstock.
“Unfortunately fat has a really bad reputation and I have seen people giving up on it without thinking it through. I’ll suggest eating 3 to 4 spoons of oil or ghee daily. You can eat two spoons of ghee and one of oil, or vice-versa. Just maintain the balance and you are good to go,” she explains.
4. Include fortified cereals and milk in your meal
“Fortified cereals and milk helps in boosting the absorption of vitamin D so must include them in your diet too,” she suggests.
5. Stay stress-free
When you are stressed, your body releases hormones that affect your gut and lead to irritable bowel movement which then affects your intestine. The fact is that vitamin D is absorbed in the intestine and hence your gut health plays an important role in its absorption. So it is imperative that you manage your stress and keep your gut healthy by including probiotics in your diet.
6. Include seafood in your diet
“Fish and seafood are major animal sources of vitamin D. The vitamin D present in them is better absorbed by the body, as compared to plant-based sources,” she suggests.
But food is not everything! Ms Shaikh also says: “Expose yourself to sunlight on a daily basis to get some vitamin D because just food won’t help. Just five to 20 minutes in the sun from 9 AM to 11 AM is all you need.”.
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Vitamin D deficiency affects more than 40% of Americans. And, the numbers are even more alarming for people with darker skin color.
But, as surprising as this may sound, eating more dairy foods and spending time outdoors are not a guarantee that your body is getting and using enough vitamin D. And, unfortunately, most people don’t even realize the significant health consequences of a vitamin D deficiency.
For example, weakness, depression and “unexplained” aches and pains are some symptoms associated with vitamin D deficiency. In addition, low vitamin D levels can lead to serious health problems, even increasing the risk of premature death.
However, contrary to popular belief, increasing levels of vitamin D may not be enough to protect your health if you’re not getting the right amounts of other essential vitamins and minerals.
Discover the 5 nutrients which will help you absorb MORE vitamin D
The vitamins and minerals within our body work together in an interconnected way. It’s possible to take in adequate amounts of one vitamin but not reap the benefits because you are lacking something else.
Therefore, let’s focus on the cofactors needed for vitamin D to work well inside your body including:
Boron: Only small amounts of boron are needed for good health, but those small amounts are essential. Together, boron and vitamin D help bones make use of the minerals they need to be strong and healthy. And, in case you’re wondering: organic nuts, fruits and leafy green vegetables are good sources of boron.
Magnesium: This mineral is needed for the body to convert food into energy. It also helps the body make use of other vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D. And, again, eating leafy greens like organic kale or Swiss chard, whole grains, nuts and seeds will give you a good amount of magnesium.
Vitamin A: This vitamin and vitamin D are cofactors that help your genetic code. In other words, without enough vitamin A, vitamin D cannot do its job efficiently.
On the other hand, too much vitamin A can cause other problems. The two main types of vitamin A are beta-carotene and retinol. So, eat bright orange and yellow fruits and vegetables for beta-carotene and small amounts of raw dairy products and organ meats for retinol.
Vitamin K: Like boron, vitamin K works with vitamin D to strengthen bones and help them make use of calcium. And, yes, you can find vitamin K in leafy greens, organ meats, eggs and cheeses.
Zinc: Vitamin D works together with zinc to ensure bones develop properly and stay strong. The body doesn’t store zinc, so it’s important to eat zinc-rich foods or supplements every day. Red meat, wild-caught seafood, poultry and legumes are good sources of zinc.
How much is enough?
The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for most nutrients can be met through eating a healthy diet. However, due to age, genetic predisposition or existing illness, many people may require higher levels of some vitamins and minerals. Certainly, much greater than the RDA suggests.
If you’re concerned about low levels of vitamin D, get a simple blood test. Ideally, you should be between 40-80 ng/ml. Sadly, too many people actually score below 30 ng/ml.
Bottom line: if you’re low in vitamin D, be sure to work with a qualified healthcare provider to help you with your nutritional needs.
Editor’s note: The NaturalHealth365 Store offers the finest quality vitamin D3/K2 formula on the market. Click here to order today!
Don’t let your vitamin D absorption slip away
Figuring out all the factors that can affect a person’s vitamin D levels is complicated. You can get the vitamin from food (mainly because it’s been added; few foods are natural sources of vitamin D) and by taking supplements (many doctors recommend taking 800 IU of vitamin D3 a day).
But vitamin D is also produced by the body in a complex process that starts when rays in the invisible ultraviolet B (UVB) part of the light spectrum are absorbed by the skin. The liver, and then the kidneys, are involved in the steps that eventually result in a bioavailable form of the vitamin that the body can use.
Here are nine factors that can influence a person’s vitamin D level:
1. The latitude where you live. At higher latitudes, the amount of vitamin D–producing UVB light reaching the earth’s surface goes down in the winter because of the low angle of the sun. In Boston, for example, little if any of the vitamin is produced in people’s skin tissue from November through February. Short days and clothing that covers legs and arms also limit UVB exposure.
2. The air pollution where you live. Carbon particulates in the air from the burning of fossil fuels, wood, and other materials scatter and absorb UVB rays. Ozone absorbs UVB radiation, so holes in the ozone layer could be a pollution problem that winds up enhancing vitamin D levels.
3. Your use of sunscreen — in theory. Sunscreen prevents sunburn by blocking UVB light, so theoretically, sunscreen use lowers vitamin D levels. But as a practical matter, very few people put on enough sunscreen to block all UVB light, or they use sunscreen irregularly, so sunscreen’s effects on our vitamin D levels might not be that important. An Australian study that’s often cited showed no difference in vitamin D between adults randomly assigned to use sunscreen one summer and those assigned a placebo cream.
4. The color of your skin. Melanin is the substance in skin that makes it dark. It “competes” for UVB with the substance in the skin that kick-starts the body’s vitamin D production. As a result, dark-skinned people tend to require more UVB exposure than light-skinned people to generate the same amount of vitamin D.
5. The temperature of your skin. Warm skin is a more efficient producer of vitamin D than cool skin. So, on a sunny, hot summer day, you’ll make more vitamin D than on a cool one.
6. Your weight. Fat tissue sops up vitamin D, so it’s been proposed that it might be a vitamin D rainy-day fund: a source of the vitamin when intake is low or production is reduced. But studies have also shown that being obese is correlated with low vitamin D levels and that being overweight may affect the bioavailability of vitamin D.
7. Your age. Compared with younger people, older people have lower levels of the substance in the skin that UVB light converts into the vitamin D precursor, and there’s experimental evidence that older people are less efficient vitamin D producers than younger people. Yet the National Center for Health Statistics data on vitamin D levels fly in the face of the conventional wisdom that vitamin D inadequacy is a big problem among older people. They don’t show a major drop-off in levels between middle-aged people and older folks.
8. The health of your gut. The vitamin D that is consumed in food or as a supplement is absorbed in the part of the small intestine immediately downstream from the stomach. Stomach juices, pancreatic secretions, bile from the liver, the integrity of the wall of the intestine — they all have some influence on how much of the vitamin is absorbed. Therefore, conditions that affect the gut and digestion, like celiac disease, chronic pancreatitis, Crohn’s disease, and cystic fibrosis, can reduce vitamin D absorption.
9. The health of your liver and kidneys. Some types of liver disease can reduce absorption of vitamin D because the ailing liver isn’t producing normal amounts of bile. With other types, steps essential to vitamin D metabolism can’t occur — or occur incompletely. Levels of the bioactive form of vitamin D tend to track with the health of the kidneys, so in someone with kidney disease, bioactive vitamin D levels decrease as the disease gets worse, and in end-stage kidney disease, the level is undetectable.
Vitamin D deficiency means that you are not getting enough vitamin D to stay healthy.
Why do I need vitamin D and how do I get it?
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. Calcium is one of the main building blocks of bone. Vitamin D also has a role in your nervous, muscle, and immune systems.
You can get vitamin D in three ways: through your skin, from your diet, and from supplements. Your body forms vitamin D naturally after exposure to sunlight. But too much sun exposure can lead to skin aging and skin cancer, so many people try to get their vitamin D from other sources.
How much vitamin D do I need?
The amount of vitamin D you need each day depends on your age. The recommended amounts, in international units (IU), are
- Birth to 12 months: 400 IU
- Children 1-13 years: 600 IU
- Teens 14-18 years: 600 IU
- Adults 19-70 years: 600 IU
- Adults 71 years and older: 800 IU
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women: 600 IU
People at high risk of vitamin D deficiency may need more. Check with your health care provider about how much you need.
What causes vitamin D deficiency?
You can become deficient in vitamin D for different reasons:
- You don’t get enough vitamin D in your diet
- You don’t absorb enough vitamin D from food (a malabsorption problem)
- You don’t get enough exposure to sunlight.
- Your liver or kidneys cannot convert vitamin D to its active form in the body.
- You take medicines that interfere with your body’s ability to convert or absorb vitamin D
Who is at risk of vitamin D deficiency?
Some people are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency:
- Breastfed infants, because human milk is a poor source of vitamin D. If you are breastfeeding, give your infant a supplement of 400 IU of vitamin D every day.
- Older adults, because your skin doesn’t make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight as efficiently as when you were young, and your kidneys are less able to convert vitamin D to its active form.
- People with dark skin, which has less ability to produce vitamin D from the sun.
- People with disorders such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease who don’t handle fat properly, because vitamin D needs fat to be absorbed.
- People who have obesity, because their body fat binds to some vitamin D and prevents it from getting into the blood.
- People who have had gastric bypass surgery
- People with osteoporosis
- People with chronic kidney or liver disease.
- People with hyperparathyroidism (too much of a hormone that controls the body’s calcium level)
- People with sarcoidosis, tuberculosis, histoplasmosis, or other granulomatous disease (disease with granulomas, collections of cells caused by chronic inflammation)
- People with some lymphomas, a type of cancer.
- People who take medicines that affect vitamin D metabolism, such as cholestyramine (a cholesterol drug), anti-seizure drugs, glucocorticoids, antifungal drugs, and HIV/AIDS medicines.
Talk with your health care provider if you are at risk for vitamin D deficiency. There is a blood test which can measure how much vitamin D is in your body.
What problems does vitamin D deficiency cause?
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to a loss of bone density, which can contribute to osteoporosis and fractures (broken bones).
Severe vitamin D deficiency can also lead to other diseases. In children, it can cause rickets. Rickets is a rare disease that causes the bones to become soft and bend. African American infants and children are at higher risk of getting rickets. In adults, severe vitamin D deficiency leads to osteomalacia. Osteomalacia causes weak bones, bone pain, and muscle weakness.
Researchers are studying vitamin D for its possible connections to several medical conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis. They need to do more research before they can understand the effects of vitamin D on these conditions.
How can I get more vitamin D?
There are a few foods that naturally have some vitamin D:
- Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
You can also get vitamin D from fortified foods. You can check the food labels to find out whether a food has vitamin D. Foods that often have added vitamin D include
- Breakfast cereals
- Orange juice
- Other dairy products, such as yogurt
- Soy drinks
Vitamin D is in many multivitamins. There are also vitamin D supplements, both in pills and a liquid for babies.
If you have vitamin D deficiency, the treatment is with supplements. Check with your health care provider about how much you need to take, how often you need to take it, and how long you need to take it.
Can too much vitamin D be harmful?
Getting too much vitamin D (known as vitamin D toxicity) can be harmful. Signs of toxicity include nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, constipation, weakness, and weight loss. Excess vitamin D can also damage the kidneys. Too much vitamin D also raises the level of calcium in your blood. High levels of blood calcium (hypercalcemia) can cause confusion, disorientation, and problems with heart rhythm.
Most cases of vitamin D toxicity happen when someone overuses vitamin D supplements. Excessive sun exposure doesn’t cause vitamin D poisoning because the body limits the amount of this vitamin it produces.
I’m frequently asked what my favorite supplements are. Although there are several that I consider heavy-hitters (aka small investments with big benefits), it’s Vitamin D that takes the prize.
As my friend, Dr. Greg Plotnikoff, says,“Vitamin D replenishment is the single most cost effective thing we can do in modern medicine.”
Not only is Vitamin D one of the most powerful factors in taming autoimmunity, it’s also critical for maintaining our overall health and fending off degenerative disease. It helps strengthen muscles, build bones, regulate insulin, and quiet inflammation, to name a few.
A lack of Vitamin D has been shown to play a role in:
- Heart disease
- Diabetes and metabolic syndrome
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- High blood pressure
- Breast, prostate, colon and 14 other cancers
- Hashimoto’s and other autoimmunity *
* To read more about Vitamin D in general and more specifically, the Vitamin D / thyroid health connection, see my post for Dr. Frank Lipman’s blog, The Link Between Vitamin D and Thyroid Health.
We only receive about 10 percent of our Vitamin D requirement from our diet because there are so few foods that contain Vitamin D. Those include egg yolks, fatty wild fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, halibut, and sardines), shiitake mushrooms, and fortified foods (milk, yogurt, some cereals, and orange juice).
Sun exposure is your best bet for ensuring sufficient levels, but supplementation with D3 (not D2 ) is critical, especially in the colder months. (There’s no evidence suggesting that a moderate amount of sun exposure causes skin cancer. Most of us can get our daily dose with just 20 minutes of sun on our face, arms, or legs in the spring, summer, and fall. Fortunately, it’s impossible for your body to generate too much Vitamin D from sunlight exposure alone. Your body will self-regulate.)
Many in the functional medicine community state that Vitamin D levels should between 50-80 ng/ml. Work with your doctor for proper dosing, but a general rule for supplementation with Vitamin D3 is:
- If your blood level is < 35 ng/ml, take 10,000 IU daily.
- If your blood level is 35-50 ng/ml, take 5000 IU daily.
- Once you reach 50 ng/ml, a maintenance dose of 2000-4000 IU daily is recommended.
You can ask your doctor for a Vitamin D test or you can go here to order your own testing kit. (This kit also tests the inflammatory marker, hs- CRP (high sensitivity C-reactive protein).)
Maximizing Vitamin D absorption and metabolism
A variety of factors can negatively impact our ability to utilize all of that Vitamin D we’re making or supplementing with.
One of my Reversing Alopecia course participants recently posted:
“My Vitamin D tested at 36 this summer. I doubled my supplement to 10,000 IU daily (2 doses of 5,000 IU each, with food) and retested after three months. It had gone up to 41. That doesn’t seem like much, does it? Is it really that slow to increase? Or is the small change more indicative of an absorption issue?”
1. Magnesium insufficiency
I feel that one of the biggest inhibitors of Vitamin D absorption is magnesium deficiency, which is chronic. Magnesium activates the enzymes that help to metabolize Vitamin D. You can read more about the mag/D relationship here and here.
It’s estimated that 70 percent of the population is deficient in magnesium due to poor soil quality, excessive exposure to nitrogen (largely from fertilizers), phosphorus (largely from soft drinks), copper (largely from water pipes), and iron (largely from excessive red meat and/or supplements). Deficiency can also be a result of taking too much supplemental calcium.
Magnesium also promotes a robust immune system and is a proven immune modulator for those with autoimmune conditions.
To read more about magnesium as it relates to thyroid function, go here.
As I quote Dr. Carolyn Dean in my Essential Thyroid Cookbook, “The Recommended Dietary Allowance ( RDA ) for magnesium is between 350 and 400 milligrams per day, which is just enough to ward off outright deficiency. But for optimal health and for the twenty-two conditions that are triggered by magnesium deficiency, perhaps twice as much magnesium is needed. Because we probably don’t get nearly enough magnesium from our diet, we have to investigate magnesium supplements.”
There are several types of magnesium and I’m often asked what type of supplementation to take. According to respected natural health expert, Dr. John Douillard, the best forms of supplemental magnesium are magnesium malate, magnesium glycinate, and magnesium citrate. He says to avoid magnesium oxide.
Taking the oil form topically is a good way to get magnesium if taking oral magnesium gives you loose stools. The oil is absorbed directly into the skin and is great for relaxing muscle spasms or soreness. This is what I use and I LOVE it.
2. Insufficient dietary fat
Vitamin D is fat-soluble—it needs fat to be absorbed. This is why it’s recommended that we take our D supplement with a meal.
Yes, we need fat and cholesterol. We’re of course talking about a meal with healthful fats, not nasty trans fats.
Additionally, many Vitamin D supplement makers are now adding Vitamin K2 with the D— K2 is also fat-soluble and works synergistically with Vitamin D. Vitamin A in the retinol form (vs. carotenoid) is also fat-soluble and helps with D absorption.
Rich food sources of Vitamin A as retinol include: cod liver oil, shellfish (especially shrimp), wild salmon, sardines, and pastured and/or grassfed butter, ghee, cream, egg yolks, and organ meat (especially liver).
Rich food sources of Vitamin K2 include: fermented soy (natto/tempeh), kefir, and pastured and/or grassfed egg yolks, dark chicken meat, and butter.
3. VDR gene polymorphism
Some carry a gene polymorphism, VDR , that affects the body’s ability to activate Vitamin D. Thus, having adequate levels of D in blood tests doesn’t mean that they’re able to use all of what’s shown on these labs.
You can read more on the D/ VDR relationship here and here.
A few of my clients and colleagues carry this SNP (“snip”)/polymorphism. I’m certainly no expert on gene testing and SNP s, but if you’re supplementing with D and not seeing your levels rise, this may be a consideration. You can talk with your doctor about the best route for gene testing.
(Public service announcement: Many are (rightfully) chafed that 23andme (the prior go-to for gene testing) sold exclusive DNA data rights to titan drugmaker, GlaxoSmithKline. Pffft. Test with 23andme at your own risk.)
My simple mission for Vitalized Future is to help you live a healthy, energized and optimized life.
- Optimizing sleep by turning off your devices before bed – (More info here)
- Optimizing your workouts by hitting the weights in the evening – (More info here)
- Optimizing supplements by taking them at certain times of day – (More info here)
If you’re reading this, then chances are you’re most interested in optimizing supplements, so we’ll explore in this article another way to optimize supplements (that not many people are aware of.)
You see, taking the best form of supplement is just as important as taking the right supplement, as quite often the form determines how well the supplement is absorbed.
(It turns you aren’t quite what you eat, but what you absorb.)
Vitamin D is no exception to the rule, so this article explores the best form of Vitamin D for optimal absorption.
Vitamin D Tablets vs Capsules
It’s rare that supplements arrive in their pure form as they need to be “held together” to be consumable.
(There are a few exceptions where the pure form is a powder, such as Creatine and Glutamine.)
So the first factor we need to consider is whether Vitamin D tablets or capsules are more effective for absorption.
To answer this, let’s recall that vitamin D a vitamin.
But what may be less obvious is that all vitamins are either water soluble or fat soluble.
Water soluble vitamins dissolve in water and hence are best taken with a pint of water.
Fat soluble vitamins, however, are best taken with fat which helps with absorption into the blood stream.
Any guesses which category vitamin D falls under?
Those who guessed fat-soluble are correct.
That’s right, Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin.
- Calcium Carbonate
- Vitamin D
- Microcrystalline Cellulose
- Magnesium Stearate
Amount of fat in the above?
A grand total of zero.
- Olive Oil
- Vitamin D
- Softgel Capsule (Gelatine, Glycerine)
Here, we have Vitamin D contained within a fat (olive oil).
So for the reason explained above, Vitamin D capsules are absorbed better than Vitamin D tablets.
Vitamin D2 vs Vitamin D3
- Vitamin D2 (Ergocalciferol)
- Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol)
Vitamin D2 is mainly derived from plant sources exposed to UV light (i.e Mushrooms), whereas Vitamin D3 is only found in animal sources (i.e. Oily fish, Liver and Eggs).
As far as this article is concerned, Vitamin D3 appears to be more effective at raising your Vitamin D levels.
Now let’s look at the why…
Our liver metabolizes Vitamin D2 into 25-hydroxyvitamin D2 and Vitamin D3 into 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 – both of which are referred to as Calcifediol.
However, Vitamin D3 seems to yield more calcifediol per unit than Vitamin D2 (Source).
- Is it contained in a fat/oil?
- Is it Vitamin D3?
Luckily, there are many Vitamin D supplements out there which fit both the above criteria so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a great Vitamin D supplement.
(In fact I’ve ranked 7 of my favourite Vitamin D supplements here, so please check it out.)
I know this is a fairly short article compared to the other in-depth posts, so let me know if you’d like me to go in more detail anywhere.
Or perhaps you guys like them kept short?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for sticking to the end.