How Much Vitamin D Do You Need For Optimal Health?
Vitamin D is absolutely essential for good health.
Also known as the sunshine vitamin, it is made in your skin when exposed to sunlight.
Foods that do contain vitamin D include fatty fish like salmon, as well as fish liver oils. Photo credit: Shutterstock
In spite of that, vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world.
Vitamin D is particularly important for bone health and immune system function.
This article discusses how much vitamin D you need.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that functions like a steroid hormone in the body.
There are two forms of vitamin D in the diet:
- Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol): found in some mushrooms.
- Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol): found in oily fish, fish liver oil and egg yolks.
Large amounts of vitamin D can also be made in your skin when it is exposed to UV-rays from sunlight. Any excess vitamin D is stored in your body fat for later use.
Bottom line: Vitamin D functions like a steroid hormone in your body. There are two forms in the diet, D2 and D3. It can also be produced in your skin when exposed to sunlight.
How Common is Vitamin D Deficiency?
Vitamin D deficiency is a problem all over the world.
About 42 percent of the U.S. population is vitamin D deficient. However, this rate rises to 82 percent in African Americans and 70 percent in Hispanics (5).
If you have access to strong sun all year, then occasional sun exposure may be enough to fulfill your vitamin D requirements.
However, if you live far north or south of the equator then your vitamin D levels may fluctuate depending on the season. The levels may go down during the winter months, due to a lack of sufficient sunlight (14, 15, 16).
In that case, you need to rely on your diet (or supplements) for vitamin D, as well as on vitamin D that is stored in body fat during the summer (15).
- Cause muscle weakness.
- Intensify bone loss.
- Increase the risk of fractures.
In children, a severe vitamin D deficiency can cause delays in growth as well as rickets, a disease where the bones become soft.
Bottom line: Vitamin D deficiency is very common worldwide, but occurs at higher rates in specific populations. A deficiency in vitamin D is linked to various health problems.
How Much Vitamin D Should You Take?
How much vitamin D you need depends on many factors. These include age, race, latitude, season, sun exposure, clothing and more.
However, some studies have shown that the daily intake needs to be higher than that if you aren't being exposed to sun.
Depending on who you ask, blood levels above 20 ng/ml or 30 ng/ml are considered as “sufficient."
One study of healthy adults showed that a daily intake of 1120–1680 IU was needed to maintain sufficient blood levels (23).
In the same study, individuals who were vitamin D deficient needed 5000 IU to reach blood levels above 30 ng/ml.
All things considered, a daily vitamin D intake of 1000–4000 IU, or 25–100 micrograms, should be enough to ensure optimal blood levels in most people.
4000 IU is the safe upper limit according to the Institute of Medicine (IOM). Make sure not to take more than that without consulting with a health professional.
Bottom line: Vitamin D intake is recommended at 400–800 IU/day, or 10–20 micrograms. However, some studies suggest that a higher daily intake of 1000–4000 IU (25–100 micrograms) is needed to maintain optimal blood levels.
What are the Optimal Blood Levels of Vitamin D?
Blood levels of vitamin D are assessed by measuring 25(OH)D in the blood, which is the storage form of vitamin D in the body (28).
However, there has been some debate over the definition of optimal blood levels.
- Sufficient: 25(OH)D > 20 ng/ml (> 50 nmol/l).
- Insufficient: 25(OH)D <20 ng/ml (<50 nmol/l).
- Deficient: 25(OH)D < 12 ng/ml (< 25 nmol/l).
These organizations claim that blood levels of over 20 ng/ml meet the vitamin D requirements of more than 97.5 percent of the population.
A committee at the IOM did not find higher blood levels to be associated with any additional health benefits (21).
Bottom line: Vitamin D levels are generally considered sufficient when above 20 ng/ml (50 nmol/l). However, some experts claim that blood levels above 30 ng/ml (75 nmol/l) are optimal.
What are the Main Sources of Vitamin D?
You can get vitamin D from:
- Sun exposure.
- Foods that contain vitamin D.
Vitamin D intake is generally quite low, since very few foods contain significant amounts (32).
Foods that do contain vitamin D include fatty fish like salmon, as well as fish liver oils.
However, supplements are available almost everywhere and there is a good selection of vitamin D3 supplements on Amazon.
Bottom line: The main sources of vitamin D are sunshine, fatty fish, egg yolks, fish liver oils, fortified foods and supplements.
Can We Get Enough Vitamin D from the Sun Alone?
Summer sun exposure is the best way to get enough vitamin D.
However, the amount of sunlight needed varies.
Older individuals and dark-skinned people produce less vitamin D in the skin.
Geographic location and season are very important, because vitamin D can't be produced year round in countries that are far from the equator.
Even though the sun may be shining, it is not necessarily strong enough to produce vitamin D.
Here are a few facts about vitamin D production in the sun:
- In more than 70 countries that are positioned north of 35°N, no vitamin D is produced during the winter months (34, 35).
- Further north, in countries like Norway (69°N), no vitamin D is produced from October until March (36).
- Factors such as clothing, weather, pollution, sunscreen use, weight and genetics may also affect the body's ability to produce vitamin D.
In strong sun, exposing arms and legs for 5–30 minutes between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. is usually enough to meet the daily requirements of most light-skinned people. People with darker skin may need a little more time (22).
One study showed that extended sun exposure during summer was enough to ensure excellent vitamin D levels during winter, regardless of vitamin D intake (37).
However, if you live far from the equator, you probably need to consume supplements or foods that contain vitamin D.
Bottom line: Vitamin D requirements can be met by sunshine alone during the summer. During the winter and for those living far from the equator, supplements may be needed.
How Much is Too Much?
Information about vitamin D overdose is outdated and toxicity is extremely rare.
It is associated with dangerously high amounts of calcium and phosphates in the blood, along with low levels of parathyroid hormone.
This is typically only seen in individuals who have accidentally or intentionally taken extremely high doses of vitamin D for long periods of time, such as 50,000–1 million IU/day for months (38, 39).
The upper level of harmless intake is set at 4000 IU, or 100 micrograms, per day.
However, up to 10,000 IU per day has not been shown to cause harm to healthy individuals (21).
That being said, very few people actually need more than 4000 IU a day (40).
A study of 17,000 people taking varying doses of vitamin D, up to 20,000 IU/day, did not demonstrate any signs of toxicity. Their blood levels were still lower than the upper range of normal, which is 100 ng/ml, or 250 nmol/l (26).
Also, it is not possible to overdose on vitamin D from sunlight.
Keep in mind that although large doses are unlikely to cause harm or toxicity, they may be completely unnecessary.
Bottom line: The recommended upper intake level of vitamin D is 4000 IU/day. However, even higher dosages have been shown to be safe in some studies.
Take Home Message
Vitamin D is essential for bone health and many other aspects of health.
A deficiency is incredibly common and may have severe health consequences for many people.
If you're thinking about adding more vitamin D to your diet, consider the following factors:
- If you live somewhere where there is sun year-round, then you may not need extra vitamin D as long as you make sure to get enough sun.
- If you do not have access to the sun, then vitamin D3 supplements of 1000–4000 IU (25–100 micrograms) should be enough for most people.
- The only way to know if you actually need to take a vitamin D supplement is to have your blood levels measured.
At the end of the day, vitamin D is highly important. Correcting a deficiency is simple, cheap and can have immense health benefits.
This article was reposted from our media associate Authority Nutrition.
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2021 begins as a year of Mars. Although our red planetary neighbor isn't as prominent as it was last autumn, it is still noticeable with its characteristic reddish color in the evening sky until the end of April. In early March, Mars shines close to the star cluster Pleiades in the constellation Taurus.
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Wild and Scenic Merced River, California. Bob Wick / BLM<p>Let's begin with COVID-19. More than <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">16 million Americans</a> have contracted the coronavirus and, tragically,<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank"> more than</a> <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">300,000 have died</a> due to the pandemic. While health officials encourage hand-washing to contain the pandemic, at least <a href="https://closethewatergap.org/" target="_blank">2 million Americans</a> are currently living without running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater treatment. Meanwhile, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank">aging water infrastructure is growing increasingly costly for utilities to maintain</a>. That cost is passed along to consumers. The upshot? <a href="https://research.msu.edu/affordable-water-in-us-reaching-a-crisis/" target="_blank">More than 13 million</a> U.S. households regularly face unaffordable water bills — and, thus, the threat of water shutoffs. Without basic access to clean water, families and entire communities are at a higher risk of <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2020/08/05/488705/bridging-water-access-gap-covid-19-relief/" target="_blank">contracting</a> and spreading COVID-19.</p><p>We have a moral duty to ensure that everyone has access to clean water to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Last spring, <a href="https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/coronavirus-stimulus-bill-explained-bailouts-unemployment-benefits.html" target="_blank">Congress appropriated more than $4 trillion</a> to jumpstart the economy and bring millions of unemployed Americans back to work. Additional federal assistance — desperately needed — will present a historic opportunity to improve our crumbling infrastructure, which has been <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">grossly underfunded for decades</a>.</p><p>A report by my organization, American Rivers, suggests that <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Congress must invest at least $50 billion</a> "to address the urgent water infrastructure needs associated with COVID-19," including the rising cost of water. This initial boost would allow for the replacement and maintenance of sewers, stormwater infrastructure and water supply facilities.</p>
Economic Recovery<p>Investing in water infrastructure and healthy rivers also creates jobs. Consider, for example, that <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y9p6sgnk" target="_blank">every $1 million spent on water infrastructure in the United States generates more than 15 jobs</a> throughout the economy, according to a report by the Value of Water Campaign. Similarly, <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yyvd2ksp" target="_blank">every "$1 million invested in forest and watershed restoration contracting will generate between 15.7 and 23.8 jobs,</a> depending on the work type," states a working paper released by the Ecosystem Workforce Program, University of Oregon. Healthy rivers also spur tourism and recreation, which many communities rely on for their livelihoods. According to the findings by the Outdoor Industry Association, which have been shared in our report, "Americans participating in watersports and fishing spend over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">$174 billion</a> on gear and trip related expenses. And, the outdoor watersports and fishing economy supports over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">1.5 million jobs nationwide</a>."</p><p>After the 2008 financial crisis, Congress invested in infrastructure to put Americans back to work. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act <a href="https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-a-budget/25941-clean-water-green-infrastructure-get-major-boost" target="_blank">of 2009 (ARRA) allocated $6 billion</a> for clean water and drinking water infrastructure to decrease unemployment and boost the economy. More specifically, <a href="https://www.conservationnw.org/news-updates/us-reps-push-for-millions-of-restoration-and-resilience-jobs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an analysis of ARRA</a> "showed conservation investments generated 15 to 33 jobs per million dollars," and more than doubled the rate of return, according to a letter written in May 2020 by 79 members of Congress, seeking greater funding for restoration and resilience jobs.</p><p>Today, when considering how to create work for the <a href="https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10.7 million</a> people who are currently unemployed, Congress should review previous stimulus investments and build on their successes by embracing major investments in water infrastructure and watershed restoration.</p>
Racial Justice<p>American Rivers also recommends that Congress dedicate <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$500 billion for rivers and clean water over the next 10 years</a> — not just for the benefit of our environment and economy, but also to begin to address the United States' history of deeply entrenched racial injustice.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.epa.gov/npdes/sanitary-sewer-overflows-ssos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">23,000-75,000 sewer overflows</a> that occur each year release up to <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/2020/05/fighting-for-rivers-means-fighting-for-justice/#:~:text=There%20are%20also%2023%2C000%20to%2075%2C000%20sanitary%20sewer,to%20do%20with%20the%20mission%20of%20American%20Rivers." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10 billion gallons of toxic sewage</a> <em>every day</em> into rivers and streams. This disproportionately impacts communities of color, because, for generations, Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color have been <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flooding-disproportionately-harms-black-neighborhoods/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">relegated</a> to live in flood-prone areas and in neighborhoods that have been intentionally burdened with a lack of development that degrades people's health and quality of life. In some communities of color, incessant flooding due to stormwater surges or <a href="https://www.ajc.com/opinion/opinion-partnering-to-better-manage-our-water/7WQ6SEAQP5E4LGQCEYY5DO334Y/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">combined sewer overflows</a> has gone unmitigated for decades.</p><p>We have historically treated people as separate from rivers and water. We can't do that anymore. Every voice — particularly those of people most directly impacted — must have a loudspeaker and be included in decision-making at the highest levels.</p><p>Accordingly, the new administration must diligently invest in projects at the community level that will improve lives in our country's most marginalized communities. We also must go further to ensure that local leaders have a seat at the decision-making table. To this end, the Biden-Harris administration should restore <a href="https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401#:~:text=Section%20401%20Certification%20The%20Clean%20Water%20Act%20%28CWA%29,the%20United%20States.%20Learn%20more%20about%20401%20certification." target="_blank">Section 401 of the Clean Water Act</a>, which was undermined by the <a href="https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/tribes-and-environmental-groups-sue-trump-administration-to-preserve-clean-water-protections#:~:text=Under%20Section%20401%20of%20the%20Clean%20Water%20Act%2C,seeks%20to%20undermine%20that%20authority%20in%20several%20ways%3A" target="_blank">Trump administration's 2020 regulatory changes</a>. This provision gives states and tribes the authority to decide whether major development projects, such as hydropower and oil and gas projects, move forward.</p>
Climate Resilience<p>Of course, the menacing shadow looming over it all? Climate change. <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">More than 100 climate-related catastrophes</a> have pummeled the Earth since the pandemic was declared last spring, including the blitzkrieg of megafires, superstorms and heat waves witnessed during the summer of 2020, directly impacting the lives of more than <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">50 million people globally</a>.</p><p>Water and climate scientist Brad Udall often says, "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQhpj5G0dME" target="_blank">Climate change is water change</a>." In other words, the most obvious and dire impacts of climate change are evidenced in profound changes to our rivers and water resources. You've likely seen it where you live: Floods are more damaging and frequent. Droughts are deeper and longer. Uncertainty is destabilizing industry and lives.</p><p>By galvanizing action for healthy rivers and managing our water resources more effectively, we can insure future generations against the consequences of climate change. First, we must safeguard rivers that are still healthy and free-flowing. Second, we must protect land and property against the ravages of flooding. And finally, we must promote policies and practical solutions that take the science of climate disruption into account when planning for increased flooding, water shortage and habitat disruption.</p><p>Imagine all that rivers do for us. Most of our towns and cities have a river running through them or flowing nearby. Rivers provide clean drinking water, irrigate crops that provide our food, power our homes and businesses, provide wildlife habitat, and are the lifeblood of the places where we enjoy and explore nature, and where we play and nourish our spirits. Healthy watersheds help <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059952" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mitigate</a> climate change, absorbing and reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Healthy rivers and floodplains help communities adapt and build resilience in the face of climate change by improving flood protection and providing water supply and quality benefits. Rivers are the cornerstones of healthy, strong communities.</p><p>The more than <a href="https://archive.epa.gov/water/archive/web/html/index-17.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">3 million miles</a> of rivers and streams running across our country are a source of great strength and opportunity. When we invest in healthy rivers and clean water, we can improve our lives. When we invest in rivers, we create jobs and strengthen our economy. When we invest in rivers, we invest in our shared future.</p>
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