Vitamin D

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D, also known as calciferol, is a fat-soluble vitamin essential for good health and quality of life. It's produced by the body when the skin is exposed to the sun or obtained from food. Although it would be more suitable to refer to vitamin D as a hormone, the truth is that it resembles other vitamins in the sense that people with a lack of sun exposure depend on a food source to obtain it.

There are then two ways of obtaining vitamin D: via sun exposure and through food.

Vitamin D synthesis starts when the skin is directly exposed to the sun's UV radiation, which is why it's often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin”. Factors such as exposure to sunlight through a window, cloudy days, shade, and having dark-colored skin decrease the amount of vitamin D produced by the skin. However, it's prudent to limit direct sun exposure to lower the risk of skin cancer. The same applies to tanning beds, which do cause the skin to produce vitamin D, but pose a similar risk of skin cancer.

Vitamin D naturally occurs in foods in two different forms: D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol). Vitamin D2 is mainly found in plants and mushrooms while vitamin D3 is particularly present in animal products, such as fatty fish (e.g. salmon, tuna, and mackerel), beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks.

Since prolonged exposure to sunlight might pose a health risk and there are very few foods that naturally contain vitamin D, food supplements and fortified foods come as a practical and safe way to meet daily vitamin D needs.

Main benefits of Vitamin D:

  • Contributes to normal absorption and utilization of calcium and phosphorus
  • Helps maintain normal blood calcium concentrations
  • Helps maintain normal bones and teeth
  • Helps maintain normal muscle function
  • Contributes to the normal functioning of the immune system
  • Plays a role in the process of cell division
  • May help reduce the risk of falling for the elderly

References

EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA); Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to vitamin D and maintenance of bone and teeth (ID 150, 151, 158), absorption and utilisation of calcium and phosphorus and maintenance of normal blood calcium concentrations (ID 152, 157), cell division (ID 153), and thyroid function (ID 156) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 on request from the European Commission. EFSA Journal 2009; 7(9):1227. [19 pp.]. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2009.1227

EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA); Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to vitamin D and normal function of the immune system and inflammatory response (ID 154, 159), maintenance of normal muscle function (ID 155) and maintenance of normal cardiovascular function (ID 159) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal 2010; 8(2):1468. [17pp.]. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2010.1468

EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA); Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of a health claim related to vitamin D and risk of falling pursuant to Article 14 of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal 2011;9(9):2382. [18pp.]. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2011.2382.

EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA); Scientific Opinion on the Tolerable Upper Intake Level of vitamin D. EFSA Journal 2012;10(7):2813.[45pp.] doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2012.2813

EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA). Scientific opinion on dietary reference values for vitamin D. EFSA Journal 2016;14(10):4547,145 pp. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2016.4547

Rodriguez JR et al. Effects of vitamin D supplementation on inflammatory markers in heart failure: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Scientific Reports. 2018;8:1169. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-19708-0

Wintermeyer E et al. Crucial Role of Vitamin D in the Musculoskeletal System. Nutrients. 2016;8(6):319. doi:10.3390/nu8060319

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