Vitamin D is said to come from sunshine because it’s produced from cholesterol when your skin soaks up sunlight. It’s actually a steroid hormone that comes in two main forms: vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Important for the absorption of calcium and thus vital to bone strength and health, vitamin D is lacking in an estimated 1 billion people worldwide. Dietary supplements of cholecalciferol are often recommended by health care professionals to help ensure adequate vitamin D levels, as are foods fortified with vitamin D, such as milk and orange juice. Come with us as we explore cholecalciferol’s uses and why it’s so imperative that we get enough each day.
Vitamin D: Food Sources and Symptoms of Deficiency
If we can’t get enough vitamin D from sunlight, where else can it be obtained? There are some food sources of both types of vitamin D.
- Ergocalciferol (vitamin D2): Certain plants and yeasts contain ergocalciferol, including mushrooms if they are exposed to sunlight before you eat them (mushrooms, like humans, create vitamin D from sunlight).
- Cholecalciferol (vitamin D3): The best D3 sources are animal foods like egg yolks and fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, etc.), all of which contain fair amounts of cholecalciferol.
These dietary forms of vitamin D aren’t very abundant, not like vitamin C for example, which can be found in massive quantities in many fruits and veggies. In fact, vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common dietary deficiencies around, with more than 40% of adults in the United States not getting enough D. Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include:
- Getting sick more often: Because vitamin D plays a role in immune functioning, without enough of it your body may be more vulnerable to colds, flus, and other viral illnesses like respiratory tract infections.
- Increased feelings of fatigue: Chronic fatigue sufferers have shown low levels of vitamin D in their blood, leading researchers to suggest there may be a connection. Young women and nurses in particular have remarkably lower levels of vitamin D, which is why supplementation with cholecalciferol is recommended to help increase energy levels.
- Feelings of depression: Older adults with depression have been shown to have lower levels of vitamin D, providing another facet of understanding for why vitamin D supplementation may improve mood.
- Back and bone pain: Due to vitamin D’s relationship with calcium absorption, a lack of it may be contributing to aches in your bones and lower back.
- Insufficient wound healing: Post-surgical healing may be compromised by too-low levels of vitamin D, which is needed for forming new skin and for helping to reduce inflammation at injury sites. Supplementing with vitamin D may help speed recovery.
- Bone and hair loss: Without enough vitamin D working with calcium, you may experience reduced bone density (it’s well-known to be associated with the childhood bone disease rickets). There is even new research showing a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and excessive hair loss. One case found that supplementing with synthetic vitamin D successfully treated hair loss in a boy with defective vitamin D receptors.
- Disease development: While the correlation isn’t as clear, there are nevertheless clinical trials and studies showing that those with low vitamin D levels are at a much higher risk of conditions like diabetes (type 1 and type 2), heart disease, dementia, cancer, and autoimmune diseases like MS (multiple sclerosis).
Vitamin D is fat soluble, which means it can dissolve in oils and fats and thereby be stored in body fat for long periods of time. However, you’d have to get enough vitamin D first before the body has extra supplies to store away. That is where supplementation comes in.
The Superior Absorption of Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3)
Cholecalciferol, aka vitamin D3, is the form of vitamin D used more often in supplements and nutritional shakes like our VeggieShake blends due to its superior performance in human health. Specifically, cholecalciferol has nearly double the effectiveness of ergocalciferol at increasing blood levels of vitamin D. Just as with consuming calcium, if you’re not absorbing vitamin D effectively, you may as well not be ingesting it at all. Vitamin D increases the amount of available calcium our bodies can use, and cholecalciferol provides more vitamin D for this purpose.
Vitamin D needs to convert twice before it becomes active in the body, first to calcidiol in your liver (this is the stage at which it is stored in fat), then into calcitriol in your kidneys. Calcitriol is the active form of vitamin D that can bind with the vitamin D receptors found in nearly every human cell. Once locked in, vitamin D can then turn genes on or off, which is how steroid hormones work throughout the body. In the gut, its action is to boost the absorption of phosphorus and calcium needed for bone health.
Is a Vitamin D Overdose Possible?
While vitamin D and cholecalciferol are natural and necessary vitamins, taking them in herbal products or in a mineral supplement could provide you with more vitamin D than you’d ever consume naturally. But are there any serious side effects associated with too much vitamin D? And what are the overdose symptoms? Here is some important information on vitamin D’s potential side effects.
- Likelihood of overdose: Vitamin D toxicity is extremely rare and only occurs when you take excessively high doses for a long period of time. High levels of vitamin D in the body is known as hypervitaminosis D.
- Symptoms of overdose: Symptoms of toxicity and overdose include a metallic taste in the mouth, drowsiness, depression, confusion, an inability to concentrate, abdominal pain, constipation, vomiting, unexplained weight loss, and high blood pressure.
- When to avoid: Cholecalciferol supplementation is not recommended for those who have an allergic reaction to vitamin D, high levels of calcium in their bloodstream (hypercalcemia), a malabsorption disorder of the gut, or by are pregnant, breastfeeding, have a history of heart or kidney disease, or an electrolyte imbalance.
As far as drug interactions go, always ask your doctor for medical advice to rule out potential adverse effects with any medications you are currently taking.
How to Supplement with Cholecalciferol
Supplement forms of vitamin D3 include chewable tablets, liquid medicine, a once-monthly cholecalciferol wafer, or just consuming foods, smoothies, or a multi-vitamin supplement with cholecalciferol added in. If you’re taking cholecalciferol medicinally, be sure to follow the instructions given by your health care provider and to use any provided measuring device to ensure an appropriate cholecalciferol dose (using a kitchen spoon for your next dose is unreliable and may give you too much). Always store your supplements at room temperature in a cool, dark, dry place like a cabinet.
One last note: there is some research suggesting that taking more fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A and vitamin K together with cholecalciferol may increase the effectiveness of all of them. Consuming these vitamins alongside a fatty meal may help as well.
The Health Benefits of Cholecalciferol
Supplementing with the cholecalciferol form of vitamin D could bring you the following health benefits.
- Fewer feelings of depression: For those who often feel listless or depressed, cholecalciferol can help treat the symptoms of clinical depression.
- Lower risk of cancer: Taking vitamin D along with calcium each day has been shown to reduce cancer risk factors by up to 60%.
- Reduced risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis: By supplementing with cholecalciferol, older adults can help prevent osteoporosis and the falls and potentially life-threatening bone fractures that can result from it.
- Improved strength and longevity: Vitamin D supplementation can improve muscle strength and total mortality rates, helping you live a longer life.
Supplement for When the Sun Can’t Shine
The reason vitamin D3 is included in our products is that, while it’s nearly impossible to take in enough vitamin D to overdose, it’s far more likely that you’ve experienced times of vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency. Yes, you can get vitamin D from sunlight, but if you’re regularly wearing sunblock to protect your skin from sun damage, you’re drastically reducing your intake of vitamin D. During the winter months too, especially in northern cities like New York, Chicago, and Seattle, the sun may not shine down on you for months.
You could get vitamin D from eating fatty, oily fish, but if you’re a vegetarian or vegan that’s out, and even for pescatarians, depending on where you’re located, you may not be close enough to a coast to have access to affordable seafood all year around. Rather than wonder if your mushrooms have had enough sun exposure, you can easily supplement with safe amounts of cholecalciferol—your body will use what it needs and store the rest for the next rainy day.