With summer just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to optimize vitamin D levels. While historically well-known for its role in bone health, over the years, vitamin D has been found to play roles in multiple other body functions, such as muscle health, heart disease, autoimmune disease, immune function, and cognitive impairment.

Sometimes overlooked, vitamin D insufficiency is widespread and affects almost 50% of the population worldwide. Yet, there are ways to ensure your vitamin D needs are being met. Keep reading to better understand how to boost your vitamin D levels and keep them optimal.


Why Does Vitamin D Matter Anyway?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin found in food and a hormone our body can make. Therefore, vitamin D can be obtained through our food, supplementation, or exposure to ultraviolet B (UVB) light (the sunshine vitamin).

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Vitamin D deficiency can occur if people lack adequate amounts of vitamin D in their diet, have digestion and absorption issues, or do not receive enough UVB exposure over an extended period of time. Vitamin D deficiency results in abnormalities in calcium, phosphorus, and bone metabolism and ultimately leads to increased osteoclastic activity through downstream effects. Conditions of prolonged vitamin D deficiency include abnormalities of the bone, such as rickets osteomalacia, osteopenia, and osteoporosis. These conditions lead to weak and softened bones, which can cause difficulty walking, pain in the bones and joints, and bones that break easily.


How Much do I Need?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin D provides the daily amount needed to maintain healthy bones. The RDA for adults over 19 years old is 600 IU (15 mcg) daily, which increases to 800 IU (20 mcg) daily when adults reach >70 years of age. Optimal blood levels of vitamin D have yet to be agreed upon.

Most established guidelines recommend vitamin D levels between 20 and 50 ng/ml. Studies have demonstrated that many people are not meeting these minimum requirements. Worldwide, it’s estimated that 1 billion people have inadequate vitamin D levels in their blood.

There have even been scientific debate on vitamin D recommendations, with some experts believe that vitamin D needs for optimal health are higher than the current recommendations, which provide the amount to avoid disease. Some organizations, such as The US Endocrine Society, have recommended increasing daily intake to 1,500-2,000 IUs daily to reach adequate serum vitamin D levels.

It might take as little as a week, or as long as six months, for increased vitamin D exposure to be reflected on a blood test, depending on current vitamin D status and method of vitamin D intake or exposure.

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The 3 Best Ways to Boost Vitamin D

  1. Catch some rays. Also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D3 can be formed through a chemical reaction in our skin with the help of the sun’s UVB light. The skin hosts a cholesterol compound called 7-dehydrocholestrol, which can be converted to active vitamin D when exposed to UVB. Increasing vitamin D levels through sun exposure can be very effective. In fact, a single whole-body dose of UVB radiation can produce up to 10,000 IU of vitamin D. It’s also been reported that vitamin D produced by UVB may circulate twice as long as vitamin D from food or supplements. For these reasons, sun-derived vitamin D is a primary source of vitamin D for humans. But there is a catch. The amount of vitamin D a person can make depends on several variables, such as age, skin tone, geographical location, season, and use of sunscreen or protective clothing. Furthermore, skin cancer is of great concern for many healthcare providers and individuals alike. Therefore, relying on sunshine alone for vitamin D may be tricky.
  2. Eat foods rich in vitamin D. Increasing the intake of foods rich in vitamin D can help increase vitamin D status. Fatty fish and seafood, such as salmon, swordfish, tuna fish, and sardines, are some of the richest sources of vitamin D available. Other foods that are good sources of vitamin D include egg yolk, beef liver, and foods fortified with vitamin D, like some plant-based milk options, breakfast cereals, yogurts, and some brands of orange juice. Regular daily intake of foods rich in vitamin D best supports optimal vitamin D status.
  3. Take a vitamin D supplement. Since vitamin D-rich foods are limited, and many people do not access enough ultraviolet-B (UVB) light to meet vitamin D requirements, supplements are often considered the best way to ensure vitamin D needs are being met. Vitamin D supplements are available in vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol or pre-vitamin D) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Both forms are naturally occurring, but D2 is produced in plants, and D3 is produced in animals and humans. While both forms are widely available for consumption, a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials that compared the effects of vitamin D2 and D3 supplements concluded that D3 supplements tended to raise vitamin D levels more and sustain elevated levels for longer compared to D2. Each 1,000IU of vitamin D3 daily is expected to increase serum vitamin D levels by 10ng/mL after a few weeks.


Are You at Risk for a Vitamin D Deficiency?

The definition of vitamin D deficiency varies, but the Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board defines blood levels <30 nmol/L (12ng/mL) as deficient, 30 to <50 nmol/L (12 to <20 ng/mL) as insufficient, and levels 50 nmol/L (50ng/mL) and above as sufficient. The only way to know if you are deficient is to check your blood levels.

However, knowing if you fall into a high-risk group can help you determine if and when you want to get your vitamin D levels tested. People who are at high risk of developing vitamin D deficiency include:

People with gut health issues: People with malabsorptive conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease are at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so any condition that disrupts the normal digestion of fat may lead to vitamin D deficiency over time. Moreover, people who have undergone gastric bypass surgery may have impacted the part of the gut where vitamin D is absorbed. So those who have had gastrointestinal surgeries should be aware of their potential low vitamin D levels.

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Older adults: Aging is associated with decreased concentrations of 7-dehydrocholesterol in the skin. Research has found that a 70-year-old has a 75% reduced capacity to make vitamin D3 from sun exposure due to the decreased amounts of this critical compound. Furthermore, older people tend to spend more time indoors, decreasing UVB exposure, and their intake of vitamin D-rich foods is more likely to fall. Therefore, older populations are at greater risk for vitamin D deficiency and must pay particular attention to their dietary intake to meet their needs.

People who limit sun exposure, live in northern latitudes or have darker skin complexion: Sun exposure has many variables. A primary concern with sun exposure is the increased risk of skin cancer. Therefore, many avoid direct sun exposure by using sunscreens and protective clothing. Studies show that sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30 can reduce vitamin D synthesis by more than 95%. Alternatively, some may live in a geographic location far enough from the equator that UVB rays are inadequate to produce vitamin D in the skin. Furthermore, those with darker skin tones have more melanin in their skin, which can absorb UVB light, limiting its ability to form active vitamin D. Evidence has found that people with darker skin tones can require at least three to five times longer exposure to make the same amount of vitamin D as someone with lighter skin. For all these reasons, the risk for vitamin D deficiency is high, and levels should be checked regularly if you fall into one of these categories.

VIDEO: When should you take a Vitamin D Test?



Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that many people overlook. You can boost your vitamin D levels by increasing your consumption of vitamin D-rich foods, supplements, or sunshine. Since there are several ways to obtain vitamin D and many variables that can affect a person’s vitamin D status, the best way to know if your levels are adequate is to occasionally measure vitamin D levels in your blood. This can be done with the help of a trusted healthcare professional or from your home with an at-home testing kit. With long summer days up ahead, safely secure ~15 min a day in the sunshine to support your vitamin D status.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This test is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, prevent or mitigate any disease. This site does not offer medical advice, and nothing contained herein is intended to establish a doctor/patient relationship. OmegaQuant, LLC is regulated under the Clinical Laboratory improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA) and is qualified to perform high complexity clinical testing. The performance characteristics of this test were determined by OmegaQuant, LLC. It has not been cleared or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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