The Science of the Sunshine Nutrient: Vitamin D3

The Science of the Sunshine Nutrient: Vitamin D3

By Emily Gladders

The Science of the Sunshine Nutrient: Vitamin D3

Why You Need Vitamin D

You know how Granny hunches a little when she walks? We used to think that was just because she didn’t get enough calcium. But these days, we know that there’s a lot more to keeping your skeleton strong than calcium alone. Turns out, calcium needs a little help. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps your intestines absorb calcium, and indirectly helps keep calcium in your bones. Without vitamin D, calcium can get a little crazy, accumulating in places it doesn’t belong or bypassing absorption entirely. Basically, you need vitamin D to make calcium work for you. Plus, recent research suggests that D’s benefits go beyond bones, supporting cellular function and overall wellbeing.

How You Get It

While you can get vitamin D from food, most reliable sources are animal-based: oily fish, eggs, and milk. So duh, it’s harder for plant-based babes to get enough from food alone.  
The good news is that your body can actually make vitamin D itself  from endogenous synthesis in the skin. It works like this: your skin absorbs UVB photons from the sun. When these photons hang out with a substance called 7-dehydrocholesterol that’s naturally in your skin, vitamin D3 is created.

Why You Might Be Deficient

Despite the fact that we can make vitamin D ourselves, many of us are still low. You know how you sit in an office all day? That doesn’t help. And neither does the fact that most of us wear sunscreen when we get sun exposure. Since UVB radiation has been shown to cause major skin damage, sunscreen is the right choice. It just makes it harder to get your D.
Those of us with darker skin also have a harder time making vitamin D ourselves. All that magic melanin in darker skin actually absorbs UVB photons, competing with 7-dehydrocholesterol and preventing it from pumping out vitamin D.
If you live in the far north (basically anywhere above Boston or Portland), you’re out of luck come winter. UVB cannot penetrate the atmosphere between October and April in locations where the latitude is greater than 42 degrees north, so your vitamin D skin synthesis is insignificant during the chilly months.   

How to Tell If You’re Low

Feeling tired, grumpy, or kind of sad? Sweaty even when it’s not that hot? These may be signs of vitamin D deficiency. In 2011, The Endocrine Society, based on numerous research studies, recommended that adults get at least 1,500 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D every day. Our scientists are on board with this recommendation and included 2,000 IU in Essential for Women. So slather on the sunscreen or stay huddled under a blanket all winter: we’ve got your vitamin D covered.

Want to learn about our form of vitamin D? Right this way.