Vitamin D is important to overall health, particularly when it comes to keeping our bones and immune systems in optimal condition. Known as the” sunshine vitamin”, it is available in some food sources such as mushrooms, egg yolks, and fish liver oil. But it is most available when we are exposed to sunlight when ultraviolet B radiation is synthesized by vitamin D3.
This simplicity is one of the most beautiful things about our bodies’ relationship with vitamin D. However, this simplicity is also a significant issue, in places that do not get a lot of sunlight, or at times when exposure to the sun is limited, such as during winter.
This problem is further exacerbated when you consider the rate of vitamin D deficiency. According to studies, about 42% of people in the United States suffer from vitamin D deficiency or hypovitaminosis D. And it is even more apparent in people with dark skin; it is estimated that a deficiency in this vitamin is at 82%, more or less, for black people, and 70% for Hispanics.
Since there are only a few food options that contain enough vitamin D to correct this problem, what can we do? Fortunately, all is not lost. Vitamin D supplements exist to help us get enough of the supplement, especially during winter. Ten of the best of them are discussed in the next section.
Third-party lab testing finds that Carlson Labs beats all of the competition when it comes to product purity, nutritional value, and other markers. This supplement contains safflower and corn oils to dissolve its vitamin D3. It contains no gluten, milk, preservatives, and casein, and can boast of being regulated by the FDA. And if there is one thing that buyers can fault this supplement for, it is just that the type of oil used is not the healthiest on the market.
- Ranked first by LabDoor
- Contains 360 soft gels
- Not suitable for vegetarians or vegans
Manufactured by a brand that is known for their fish oil products, the vitamin D3 capsules from Nordic Naturals also features healthy oils for heart health and other benefits. Each softgel combines 500 IU of vitamin D3, olive oil, and omega-9 fatty acid oleic acid. According to Labdoor, one serving contains 1010 IU of vitamin D3, which is over by its claim by a percent. Its product purity has also been verified to be at 90 percent.
- Features more omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids compared to other brands
- Non-GMO verified
- Tested by third-party laboratories
- Contains omega fatty acids, which may pose issues to certain people
- Not evaluated by the FDA
Another good product, Solgar Natural Vitamin D3 is a vegetarian supplement that contains no gluten, wheat, and preservatives. It also contains a lot of capsules in a bottle, which makes it a good buy for the value that it provides. And it is kosher-approved.
- An all-natural product
- Ideal for vegetarians and vegans
- Offers optimal value for its price
- May not be as readily available as other supplements
This one from one of the most established manufacturers of supplements promises to deliver 1000 IU of vitamin D per softgel capsule, but lab testing says that it actually offers 30 percent more than what it claims. Is this a good thing? Yes, if you want to get as much amount of vitamin D from every capsule. And no, if you want your supplement manufacturer to know their product inside out. And it comes with a two-year shelf life.
- Contains 120 capsules in one bottle
- All-natural and ideal for vegans
- Comes at an affordable price
- Delivers more vitamin D IU than its claim
Nutrigold offers two vitamin D3 offerings, which are essentially the same except for their dosage. The first promises 1000 IU per dose, while the other offers 2000 IU. If lab testing is to be considered, the brand’s supplement actually delivers 100 IU of vitamin D more than their claim, which is the same as the vitamin D3 from now. However, it makes up for it by using equipment that is not used for ingredients that typically induce allergy in some people, such as milk, fish, and soy.
- Ideal for people with allergies
- Offers flexibility in dosage options
- Delivers more vitamin D than the brand’s claim
The DailyD D3 vitamins from Do Vitamins are set apart from the others because of the brand sources their vitamin D from plant sources like lichen. These products also carry Labdoor’s “Tested for Sport” certification, which can add extra peace of mind to buyers who are serious about ensuring the quality of what they are getting. Also, these vitamins are great for vegetarians and vegans, as they package the vitamin in plant cellulose and not gelatin, which is what other brands use.
- Offers 365 capsules, for year-round supplementation
- Vegan, all-natural, and plant-derived
- Delivers less vitamin D than its claim
Nature’s Way Vitamin D3 offers 2000 IU per softgel serving, which is higher than most vitamin D3 supplements. It is also another ideal choice for people with allergies since it contains no artificial coloring, artificial flavors, dairy products, gluten, wheat, and yeast. It dissolves the vitamin in safflower oil, and each gel is coated in gelatin.
- Contains no allergy-inducing ingredients
- Very affordable
- Dairy-free, but not ideal for vegans as the capsule is made of gelatin
Among the bestselling vitamin D3 supplement on Amazon, NatureWise vitamin D3 offers 5000 IU of the vitamin in every capsule, which is probably the highest offered by supplements of its kind. This makes it especially ideal for those who are living in northern climates or have darker skin. It is also ideal for minimalists, as it only contains olive oil and the capsule constituents, in addition to the vitamin. It also provides optimal value, with 360 capsules in one bottle.
- Comes in small capsules, so easy to swallow
- Does not contain unnecessary ingredients
- The pills can get glued together inside the bottle
- Some users have reported allergies after taking the supplement
This brand is known for delivering quality products, and its vitamin D3 supplement is no exception. It is available in two dosages: 2000 IU and 5000 IU. This makes it great for those who are looking for supplements that can better meet their requirements. It also contains only a few ingredients, namely olive oil, the vitamin, gelatin, and water.
- Easy to swallow
- Offers good value for its price
- May cause immediate spikes in vitamin D levels, which has alarmed some users
One of the cheapest options on the market, Nature Made’s D3 supplement comes in a chewable form that makes it a favorite among children, and other people who do not like pills. However, this formulation also makes it a bit of a challenge for the product to ensure that the vitamin stays in solid form. It also contains a ton of ingredients, including a red dye. And it claims to offer 1000 IU per tablet, but lab testing says that it actually delivers 60 times as much. Still, if you’re looking for a vitamin D3 supplement that you will not need to swallow with water, this one is ideal.
- Comes in various tasty flavors
- Ideal for people who do not like pills
- Some users may not like the specific physical characteristics of the tablets
Who Needs Vitamin D Supplements During Winter
Vitamin D supplements are recommended to be taken by those who want to make sure that their body gets the vitamin D that they need, on days when sunlight is not enough. Specific types of people will especially benefit from the supplements, such as expectant or breastfeeding mothers, women who are on long-term steroids, and women going through menopause to assure proper calcium absorption, which is facilitated to a degree by vitamin D.
Those who are also inherently more susceptible to deficiency, such as people with dark skin, should also try and reduce their risk through supplementation. Similarly, people who regularly use sunscreens of SPF 30 or higher may not be able to manufacture vitamin D as readily as those who don’t.
In addition, vegans should look at making up for the lack of vitamin D in their diet with supplements; a strictly vegan diet does not offer as many calcium-rich options, and the supplement can equip the body with what it needs for bone health. Extremely overweight or obese people should also take supplements.
Benefits of Vitamin D Supplements During Winter
There are a plethora of benefits associated with vitamin D and its supplementation. First of these is the possible treatment of rickets, osteoporosis, bone loss in those who have a condition that is called hyperparathyroidism, and osteogenesis imperfecta. Similarly, the vitamin can mitigate bone loss and low calcium levels in patients with kidney failure.
Vitamin D is also reported to be effective in reducing the potential for damaging falls and fractures for elderly people. In fact, studies say that taking a high dosage of vitamin D supplements can help reduce risks of falling by as much as 22%; taking vitamin D along with calcium supplements can reduce body sway and lower blood pressure. According to findings, this effectiveness is more seen in women patients than men, as well as older people living in residential care facilities as opposed to community dwellings.
In addition, vitamin D is considered necessary for the treatment of various conditions, such as those that concern the heart and the blood vessels. Also, it is deemed efficient for high blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, multiple sclerosis, muscle weakness, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), rheumatoid arthritis, and tooth and gum disease.
It is even used for different types of skin conditions. These include actinic keratosis, vitiligo, lupus vulgaris, psoriasis, and scleroderma.
Other conditions that may be eased by vitamin D supplementation are discussed in general detail as follows:
- Osteomalacia, or softening of the bones. Various forms of softening of the bones can happen due to medical conditions, and vitamin D can help correct all of them. Cholecalciferol can be used for general osteomalacia, calcifediol can treat softening of the bones from liver disease, and ergocalciferol can help with the softening of the bones that occur from poor absorption syndromes or medication.
- Low phosphate levels in the blood from familial hypophosphatemia. It has been found that taking vitamin D (either calcitriol or dihydrotachysterol) supplements by mouth can be effective towards treating bone disorders among those who have low phosphate levels in the blood. These supplements need to be further supplemented by phosphate supplements.
- Low phosphate levels in the blood from Fanconi syndrome. Potential treatment of low blood phosphate levels from this condition has also been found to be significant through taking ergocalciferol, another form of vitamin D.
- Low calcium levels from low parathyroid hormone levels. Low parathyroid hormone levels are directly linked to low calcium levels. Vitamin D, dihydrotachysterol, calcitriol, or ergocalciferol, can curb damage and boost calcium levels.
Vitamin D supplementation can also be effective for respiratory infections. The medical literature says that children who are suffering from some form of vitamin D deficiency are more at risk of developing respiratory infections such as the flu. Similarly, studies say that children who take vitamin D supplements during winter have lower chances of developing colds or other respiratory conditions.
For those with cavities, vitamin D may help. It is said that cholecalciferol can lower cavity risks by up to 49%, and cholecalciferol can do the same for children, infants, and even adolescents by 36%.
Weight loss can be more possible, too, with supplementation. Research says that women who take both vitamin D and calcium supplements are more likely to shed off extra pounds and keep their weight at an optimal level.
Finally, vitamin D supplements have reportedly been effective in curbing risks for cancer. Some studies say that those who take a high dose of these supplements, in conjunction with other supplements, are less prone to developing certain types of cancer.
Vitamin D Supplements During Winter: Classifications, Etc
Vitamin D supplementation is thought to benefit numerous aspects of health. This includes bone strength, immunity, mental health, metabolic health, and maybe even cancer risk.
There are two important types of vitamin D used by humans: vitamin D2 or ergocalciferol, and vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol. Ergocalciferol is mostly found in plants that we eat as foods, such as mushrooms, while cholecalciferol is present in fatty fish and other animals. Both of these get converted into calcitriol, active vitamin D when exposed to the UV rays of sunlight, but our bodies can only synthesize vitamin D3.
Both of these forms have equivalent efficacy in treating rickets, but studies say that vitamin D3 is three times more effective, or as much as 87% better, than its counterpart in maintaining serum concentrations. This is because vitamin D3 has a higher affinity with the binding protein in our body, which makes it more equipped to stay in the circulatory system longer and, thus, boost serum levels more efficiently. Studies also say that vitamin D3 is converted to its active form 500 times faster than vitamin D2.
A meta-analysis by the Cochrane Database also found that when compared, the two have differing effects on mortality rates. The findings from 50 randomized controlled trials that included 94,000 participants found a six-percent relative reduction in mortality risks among those who were using vitamin D3, and a two-percent relative increase in mortality risks in those who were using vitamin D2.
Vitamin D2 is featured in most prescriptions from doctors, while vitamin D3 is contained in more over-the-counter supplements.
Vitamin D supplements are available in three main forms: chewable tablets, capsules, and emulsified oil drops. Of these, it is considered that only chewable tablets and capsules are efficient in supplying enough amounts of vitamin D. However, all three are reported as safe and effective for use.
Safety Issues to Consider When Using Vitamin D Supplements During Winter
Should You Take Vitamin D Supplements?
One of the most important facts of information that we should know about taking vitamin D supplements during winter is that it is best done when we cannot:
- Ensure healthy exposure to direct sunlight
- Change our diet to incorporate more foods that are rich in vitamin D
Those who are at risk of vitamin D deficiency may also benefit from taking supplements, even when it’s not winter. These include people who are veiled, people with very dark skin, infants who are exclusive breastfed by mothers who are also at risk of deficiency, and institutionalized or housebound elderly people.
How Much Vitamin D Should You Take?
When taken in recommended amounts, vitamin D supplements during winter will not pose serious side effects. If there are any, they will be mostly limited to loss of appetite, fatigue, a metallic taste in the mouth, nausea, and weakness. However, it is critical to note that prolonged ingestion of more than 4000 units on a daily basis may be detrimental to your health, as this can lead to an excessively high amount of calcium in the blood.
The problem is higher prolonged doses are necessary for treating vitamin D deficiency. If you need to take more than the recommended amounts, make sure that you talk to a doctor for proper guidance.
It is also necessary to keep within advised guidelines when taking the supplements while undergoing treatment for ongoing conditions. Pregnant or breastfeeding women, for instance, must take less than 4000 units daily; higher doses may cause serious harm to infants. Additionally, people with already high levels of calcium in their blood need to be careful about supplementation, as vitamin D may exacerbate the issue.
Patients with kidney disease should also be mindful when taking the vitamin supplement. This is because excessive calcium levels in the blood may lead to atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. In addition, there is a very real risk of renal osteodystrophy, which can occur when the kidneys are no longer equipped to manage calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood. If you have kidney disease and you intend to take vitamin D supplements, you and your doctor must commit to a regular and careful monitoring of your calcium levels.
Vitamin D supplements may also boost calcium levels in people with sarcoidosis, tuberculosis, lymphoma, and histoplasmosis, which can lead to the formation of kidney stones. People with hyperparathyroidism should also secure the express permission of a doctor before attempting to take the supplements.
Calls for Further Research
Also, it pays to be careful about absolutely believing in claims made by some vitamin D supplement manufacturers, particularly where its effectiveness for the treatment of certain conditions is concerned. For example, there are studies that say that vitamin D supplementation can be effective in mitigating risks for breast cancer, especially for young women. However, according to the Women’s Health Institute, taking 400 IU of the vitamin and 100mg of calcium every day does not lower risks for postmenopausal women.
It has also not been solidly established that combining vitamin D supplements with calcium carbonate can be significant to treating bone loss in people who have had kidney transplants. The same applies to claims made about asthma, gum disease, and even preventing risks for falls in older people.
Product Use Limitations
Taking vitamin D supplements while taking other medication can give rise to drug interactions. Watch out for these specific drugs:
- Our bodies synthesize vitamin D into a form that we can use, but Cimetidine may decrease the rate by which this synthesis can happen, which can directly reduce the effectiveness of the vitamin.
- Heparin is noted for its ability to slow down blood clotting when used extensively for a prolonged period of time. If you’re taking any heparin, make sure to supplement your diet with plenty of vitamin D and calcium.
Vitamin D supplements can also lead to more serious drug interactions with the following:
- Commonly found in antacids, aluminum is affected by vitamin D supplementation. This is because the vitamin can boost the rate by which aluminum is absorbed by the body, which can be an issue for people with kidney disease. If you need to take antacids, make sure that you take vitamin D supplements two hours before you take antacids, or four hours after.
- This drug is similar to vitamin D so if you’re taking this in conjunction with vitamin D, there is a higher risk of developing side effects. In many cases, it is better not to combine the two.
- Digoxin is a drug that is used to help strengthen heartbeats, while vitamin D can impact calcium absorption. Since calcium affects the heart, taking this drug alongside vitamin D may lead to irregular heartbeats. Make sure that you can talk to your doctor before you start vitamin D supplementation while on Digoxin.
- Taking vitamin D supplements while taking Diltiazem can decrease the effectiveness of Diltiazem.
- Both Verapamil and calcium absorption from vitamin D can affect the heart, so taking this medication while also taking vitamin D supplements is not ideal. In fact, you should steer clear of taking high amounts of vitamin D if you’re on Verapamil.
- Water pills. Finally, water pills or Thiazide diuretics while taking vitamin D can lead to too much calcium in the body. This can give rise to serious side effects, such as kidney problems.
Important Factors to Keep in Mind
To make sure that you keep within recommended amounts, a general rule of thumb to follow is to ensure that you do not take anything higher than 4000 IU, or 100 micrograms, every day. Granted, studies show that taking even up to 20,000 IU per day will not have adverse effects, but it will mostly be unnecessary.
Now, taking vitamin D in extremely high doses does not always happen, but it does exist. People who take between 50,000 to 1 million IU per day, for instance, are at high risk of vitamin D toxicity. Foremost of its effects is a dangerously high amount of calcium and phosphate in the blood, as well as reduced levels of the parathyroid hormone.
General Prescribed Amounts of Vitamin D for Different Conditions
There are various amounts recommended to treat or alleviate different conditions using vitamin D supplements. Take note that these are only general recommendations, and a specific dosage must be decided by your doctor to ensure your optimal safety and protection.
- Muscle pain: 400 IU of vitamin D2 or vitamin D3 per day, or 50,000 units per week
- Preventing osteoporosis and fractures: 400-1000 IU per day, for older adults
- Preventing falls: 800-1000 IU per day, used in combination with 1000-1200 mg/day of calcium
- Preventing risks for all types of cancer: 1100 IU per day of vitamin D3, used in combination with 1400-1500 mg
- of calcium per day, for postmenopausal women
- Preventing flu: 1200 IU, per day
General daily recommended allowances for different ages and groups are as follows:
- 0-12 months: 400 IU
- 1-70 years of age: 600 IU daily
- 71 years and older: 800 IU daily
- Pregnant and lactating women: 600 IU daily
When it comes to serum levels, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the Nordic Nutrition Council recommend:
- Sufficient: 25(OH)D greater than 20 ng/ml (50 nmol/l)
- Insufficient: 25(OH)D less than 20 ng/ml (50 nmol/l)
- Deficient: 25(OH)D less than 12 ng/ml (25 nmol/l)
Foods Rich in Vitamin D
If you want to consider getting your vitamin D from natural food sources instead of supplements, you should look into: tuna, mackerel, salmon, and other fatty fish; dairy products, orange juice, cereals, and soy milk; beef liver; cheese; and egg yolks.
However, it is important to remember that food sources do not provide as much vitamin D as you can derive from direct sunlight or even supplements. For example, three ounces of salmon only generate less than 500 IU of vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiency is a serious reality for many Westerners, particularly those who live north of the equator, have darker skin, or housebound. The role of the vitamin in health is too significant to merit less than careful management of this deficiency, especially during winter.
As such, it is fortunate that we have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to selecting vitamin D supplements. Most of the products are manufactured by established brands, which grants peace of mind to those who want to make sure that they get nothing but the best. In addition, vitamin D supplementation has been shown to produce positive results for treating deficiency, as well as boosting overall health.
With that said, it is still important to remember that starting on a supplementation program for vitamin D should not come without careful assessment of, first and foremost, risks. Vitamin D supplements can pose significant drug interactions with certain medications. Similarly, certain types of people require specific guidance in using these supplements.
It is therefore critical to enlist the supervision of a doctor before and during vitamin D supplementation. Those who have existing medical conditions are especially advised to secure the express permission of a physician before they attempt to get on the pills.