SCIENCE BEHIND VITAMIN D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in very few foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. It is also produced by our bodies when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis. Vitamin D obtained from sun exposure, food, and supplements is biologically inert and must undergo some processes in the body for activation.
Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the gut and maintains adequate serum calcium and phosphate concentrations to enable normal mineralization of bone. It is also needed for bone growth and bone remodeling. Without sufficient vitamin D, bones can become thin, brittle, or misshapen. Together with calcium, vitamin D also helps protect older adults from osteoporosis.
Vitamin D has other roles in the body, including modulation of cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function, and reduction of inflammation. Many genes encoding proteins that regulate cell proliferation, differentiation, and cell death are modulated in part by vitamin D.
How does vitamin D affect immune health? Vitamin D is critical for immune function. A deficiency in this nutrient may compromise immune response and increase your risk of infection and disease. If you’re interested in supplementing with vitamin D to enhance your overall immune response, consult your healthcare provider for information on proper dosing.
Vitamin D comes in two forms. Vitamin D2 is obtained from the UV irradiation of the yeast sterol ergosterol and is found naturally in sun-exposed mushrooms. Vitamin D3 is synthesized in the skin and is present in oil-rich fish such as salmon, mackerel, and herring; Serum concentration of 25(OH)D is the best indicator of vitamin D status. It reflects vitamin D produced cutaneously and that obtained from food and supplements and has a fairly long circulating half-life of 15 days, thus cholecalciferol as a supplement can be administered weekly.
The US Society of Endocrinology recommends that all adults who are vitamin D deficient be treated with 50,000 IU of vitamin D2 or vitamin D3 once a week for 8 wk or its equivalent of 6000 IU/d of vitamin D2 or vitamin D3 to achieve a blood level of 25(OH)D above 30 ng/ml, followed by maintenance therapy of 1500–2000 IU/d.
Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2010.
Michael F. Holick, et al Evaluation, Treatment, and Prevention of Vitamin D Deficiency: an Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 96, Issue 7, 1 July 2011, Pages