You may have wondered whether you should add vitamin D supplements to your diet. In the following article, we’ve gathered the latest information about this molecule to make it easily accessible for you. Keep reading and you’ll have all the answers to your questions so you can choose the right supplement for you.

Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption and is therefore an essential component to maintaining healthy bones. It also plays a key role in cellular metabolism, muscle function, and defence against infection. We notice an increasingly frequent deficiency in vitamin D in our modern societies, in great part due to low exposure to sunlight.

Key Facts

  • Vitamin D regulates the absorption of calcium and the development of a healthy skeleton. Most of the vitamin D our body can synthesise comes from exposure to sunlight.
  • The other sources of vitamin D we have access to are certain foods (such as fish) and supplements.
  • Vitamin D deficiency can lead to growth disturbances in children (rickets). In adults, it can generate osteoporosis and increase the incidence of metabolic, cardiac or neurological diseases.

Ranking: The best vitamin D supplements in the market

Dozens of vitamin D supplements are available on the Australian market. It can take you days of research before settling for the right one. We designed the following section to make this process easier for you by choosing the best products for sale on your market. Check out our ranking to choose the vitamin D supplements that best suit your needs.

No. 1: Blackmores, Vitamin D3 (softgels)

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Specialised in the development of health supplements, Australian brand Blackmores offers this easy-to-swallow supplement, providing 1,000 IU per capsule. Recognised on the Australasian market, Blackmores’ quality control ensures the highest standards for its products. The cholecalciferol, of animal origin, makes it unsuitable for vegans or vegetarians.

With high ratings given to this product, the consumers praise the small size of the capsules. This is particularly convenient for people with difficulties swallowing. The absence of bad taste or smell was also put forward by customers. According to some of these customers, blood tests taken quickly made evident the effectiveness of the product.

No. 2: Ostelin, Vitamin D3 (softgels)

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Available in boxes of 60 or 130 capsules, Ostelin’s vitamin D3 supplements provide you with the recommended daily intake in a single capsule. Manufactured in Australia, this product has no added yeast, gluten or lactose, while remaining from animal origin. Note that this vitamin D supplement is recommended for adults only.

This product has received positive reviews by its buyers. They compliment its long-term results, also stating that this brand was often recommended by their practitioner. Its easy-to-swallow format has helped consumers maintain or reach healthy levels of vitamin D, with subjective feelings of increased energy also being reported.

No. 3: Swisse, Vitamin D3 (softgels)

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Melbourne-based company Swisse delivers this bulk-sized vitamin D supplement, with each capsule containing 25 mcg of cholecalciferol – an easy one-a-day dose, to be taken during or after meals. Vitamin D3’s quicker absorption into the body makes this product a preferred choice over D2. This product contains soya beans and sulfites, and is not suitable for vegetarians.

The value for money of Swisse’s Ultiboost Vitamin D is a key factor for its success amongst consumers, with its 400-capsule box providing over a year of vitamin D in a single purchase. The size of the capsules reportedly facilitates swallowing them. Overall, the Swisse brand’s reputation is mentioned as an important buying criterion.

Shopping Guide: Everything you should know about vitamin D

Vitamin D ensures proper calcium absorption and contributes to healthy bones. It also plays an important role in maintaining your cardiac, neurological and metabolic health. Research show that up to 50% of the world’s population is currently deficient in vitamin D, for which we can blame a lack of sun and a nutrient-poor diet.

vitamin-d1

Also known as the “sunshine vitamin”, vitamin D is essential to our well-being.(Source: Puhha: 54194400/ 123rf.com)

What is vitamin D exactly?

The word “vitamins” actually refers to a series of molecules essential for the proper functioning of our body. Needed in small quantities, they are often obtained directly through our diet and regulate the functioning of different hormones and enzymes.

Vitamin D is a compound with a cholesterol-derived structure. We have identified different types of vitamin D, ordered from 1 to 5. The human body can use vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Any supplement sold as “vitamin D” includes either one of these two molecules.

The main difference between the two is that vitamin D2 is found in foods of plant origin, while vitamin D3 appears in foods of animal origin. Since our skin can synthesise cholecalciferol after sun exposure, certain scientists prefer this molecule to be considered a hormone rather than an essential vitamin.

What does vitamin D do for the body?

Vitamin D does not only play a key role in the health of our bones. Over the last decades, scientists have discovered it was also key in regulating countless other body processes. This molecule is essential to keep our heart, brain and defences in good shape.

The following table presents a summary of its main functions:

System Function
Skeletal Calcium absorption in the intestines. Formation of new bone and replacement of damaged bone.
Muscular Increased strength during muscular contraction.
Cardiovascular Arterial dilation and decrease in blood pressure.
Renal Regulation of the renal function. Control of calcium and phosphorus levels.
Reproductive Creation of sex hormones (testosterone and estrogen).
Inmune  Activation of the defense system. Regulation of autoimmunity.
Nervous  Neural protection. Mood stabilisation.

We still don’t know all the mechanisms involved in the different functions of vitamin D. However, a large number of studies link its deficit with negative alterations in different organs. This molecule is therefore inestimable for our health.

How does my body absorb vitamin D?

As mentioned earlier, vitamin D can either enter the body through food or be synthesised after exposure to sunlight. This inactive molecule must go through a series of reactions before the body can actually use it. The active form of vitamin D is a hormone known as calcitriol.

The two organs involved in this activation process are the liver and kidney. You should consult your doctor if you suffer from any condition that affects the function of these organs before taking vitamin D supplement.

Your body might be unable to activate these molecules. In this case, vitamin D2 or D3 supplementation should be supervised by a health professional.

Sun exposure is the most efficient way to reach an optimal daily intake of vitamin D. Otherwise, you should eat foods rich in this vitamin iff you prefer indoor activities or use sunscreen that blocks UVB rays. Adding a supplement to your diet is always a great option to make sure that your vitamin D levels are satisfactory.

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Did you know that vitamin D was a fat-soluble vitamin stored in the body’s fatty tissues?

How does sunlight affect vitamin D levels?

A chemical reaction takes place when type-B ultraviolet light strikes your skin, transforming cholesterol into vitamin D3. Although this can vary depending on several factors, experts usually recommend ten to fifteen minutes of exposure to sunlight every day.

Synthesis is influenced by your age and skin colour; the older you are and the more pigmentation you have, the less cholecalciferol you’ll produce. Other factors that can impact your vitamin D production are the use of UVB-blocking sunscreen, as well as living in areas with little sunlight – particularly during winter.

This is why the time of exposure to sunlight needed by each individual in order to reach optimal vitamin D levels can vary. We recommend you to use a calculator to have an estimate of what your exposure time should be.

If you simply can’t spend more time in the sun, consider using a supplement to complete your cholecalciferol intake.

What is the recommended dose of vitamin D?

The concentration of active vitamin D in the blood is measured in micrograms (μg) or nanograms (ng). Health professionals recommend keeping those levels above 30 ng. The amount of vitamin D2 or D3 needed to reach a sufficient calcitriol concentration is counted in International Units (IU):

Population group Recommended daily dose
Infants, 0-6 months 400 IU
Babies, 6-12 months 400 IU
Children, 1-3 years 600 IU
Children, 4-8 years 600 IU
Adolescents, 9-18 years 600 IU
Adults up to 70 years 1,000 IU
Seniors over 70 years 1,000 IU

As you noticed in the table above, the recommended daily dose in vitamin D increases with age. The growth phase during adolescence requires this molecule to ensure the development of strong bones. People over the age of 70 need higher doses of vitamin D to keep their muscles, bones and immune system in good shape.

What foods are rich in vitamin D?

Foods provide our bodies with lower quantities of vitamin D than production through sun exposure. That being said, certain food groups are significant sources of this molecule. As mentioned earlier, cholecalciferol (D3) is found in foods of animal origin, while ergocalciferol (D2) is abundant in foods of plant origin.

The richest foods in vitamin D come from animals. Oily fish, liver (chicken or veal) and egg yolk have particularly high cholecalciferol content. On the other hand, vegetables tend to have low quantities of vitamin D, and vegans need to look for alternative sources, such as mushrooms or artificially enriched foods.

Food Type of vitamin D Approximate concentration (IU)
Cod liver oil (1 tbsp.) D3 500
Salmon (75 g) D3 350
Tuna D3 150
Sardines ( 75g) D3 145
Fortified vegetable drink (250 ml) D2 (vegan) 100
Egg yolk (unit) D3 45
Fortified margarine (1 tbsp.) D2/D3 30

Vegans and vegetarians should be aware that ergocalciferol is not absorbed by the body as well as vitamin D of animal origin. Fortunately, supplements and fortified foods are now available and can provide an extra intake of this molecule. For example, certain mushroom species that are cultivated contain up to 200 IU of vitamin D per 100 g.

vitamin-d2

Vitamin D regulates hormone production, and more specifically that of insulin.(Source: Baibakova: 61624754/ 123rf.com)

Who is affected by vitamin D deficiency?

Vitamin D deficiency affects a large part of the world’s population. The mildest studies estimate this figure to be 30%, while other experts say that up to 80% of people are deficient in calcitriol. Sedentary lifestyles and less exposure to sunlight are the first responsible for this unfortunate phenomenon.

The following groups are most at risk of vitamin D deficiency:

  • Adults over the age of 55: The skin reduces its ability to synthesise cholecalciferol with age.
  • Office workers and students: They spend most of their time indoors and don’t get enough sunlight.
  • People with darker skin: Higher amounts of melanin in the skin hinder the production of vitamin D.
  • Vegans and vegetarians: Ergosterol is harder to absorb and use than vitamin D of animal origin.
  • People who frequently use sunscreen: This product blocks UVB rays and prevents the formation of the vitamin.
  • People with chronic intestinal diseases: They hinder the assimilation of vitamin D in the digestive tract.

How does vitamin D deficiency manifest itself?

It has been known for years that hypovitaminosis D causes alterations in bone metabolism. Lacking this molecule causes difficulties in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus. This leads to alterations in the functioning of the parathyroid gland and in the development of new bones.

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Students and office workers who spend a lot of time indoors can suffer from vitamin D deficiency.(Source: Gstockstudio: 53684166/ 123rf.com)

The latest studies claim that vitamin D deficiency is linked to a more extensive symptomatology. Subjective feelings of fatigue and drowsiness can be early symptoms for some people, while daily headaches that cannot be explained by other illnesses are also associated with a lack of calcitriol.

The list below presents some unpleasant effects linked with low levels of vitamin D:

  • Onset osteoporosis, osteomalacia and rickets in children
  • Bone pain (especially in the lower back)
  • Muscle aches
  • Frequent infections
  • Fatigue and drowsiness accompanied by headaches
  • Depression
  • Difficulty healing wounds
  • Hair loss and baldness
  • Dementia
  • Increased severity of autoimmune diseases
  • Potential increase in cancer risks

For whom are vitamin D supplements tailored?

There is an ongoing debate about the need for vitamin D supplementation, with an estimated 40-50% of people with some form of deficiency. This has led certain experts to recommend giving vitamin D to the whole population, while other professionals believe that supplements should only be for the following groups:

  • People over the age of 55
  • Vegans and strict veggetarians
  • People with darker skin, especially if they spend a lot of time indoors
  • Pregnant women (under medical supervision) and postmenopausal women
  • Teenagers who spend a lot of time indoors
  • Office workers, students or people with low exposure to sunlight
  • Obese people
  • People who have had bariatric surgery
  • People with cardiovascular problems (hypertension, heart failure)
  • People with a diet poor in vitamin D for any reason
  • People with kidney failure
Health VictoriaDepartment of Health, Victorian Government

“Low vitamin D is an important public health issue. Mild deficiency affects around one quarter of all Australians.”

What can vitamin D supplements do for me?

Studies have shown the link between decreased mortality from all causes and healthy vitamin D levels. Numerous research have demonstrated a lower incidence of osteoporosis, osteomalacia, and rickets, with the appearance of other benefits related to the activity of calcitriol at the neuronal, muscular and cardiovascular levels:

  • Improvement of strength and endurance
  • Subjective feeling of well-being
  • Lower incidence of infections (flu and colds)
  • Lower incidence of fatigue
  • Improvement of mood, relief from depression
  • Better control of blood pressure
  • Better control of autoimmune diseases (such as lupus)
  • Improved memory and concentration
  • Decreased BMI, abdominal perimeter and LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol)
  • Slower progression of degenerative diseases (such as aged-related macular degeneration)

Can I take too much vitamin D?

Vitamin D being fat-soluble, it is stored in the body’s fat tissues and is difficult to remove. Consuming excessive amounts can therefore lead to intoxication. This is different from water-soluble vitamins such as C, for which the excess is immediately eliminated in your urine.

It is not recommended to exceed 4,000 daily IU of vitamin D. Weakness, vomiting, renal colic and arterial calcifications can be consequences of an excess of supplements or fortified foods. On the contrary, sun exposure only creates the necessary amount of vitamin and has never been associated with cholecalciferol poisoning.

Caryl A. Nowson et al.Vitamin D and health in adults in Australia and New Zealand: a position statement

“Vitamin D toxicity can be caused by excess oral intake through supplementation, but not by prolonged exposure of the skin to sunlight, which produces 25-OHD values in the range 150–200 nmol/L.”

What are the different types of vitamin D supplements available?

As we mentioned earlier, over-the-counter vitamin D supplements will either contain vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) or vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol). These compounds are processed by your liver and kidneys, creating the active form of this vitamin (calcitriol). An increased risk of intoxication is associated with calcitriol, and it is therefore only available by prescription.

  • Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol): This molecule is found in animal products and requires sun exposure to be synthesised in the skin. As the most bioavailable form, it is the most recommended when choosing a vitamin D product. It is naturally not suitable for vegans or vegetarians.
  • Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol): Found in mushrooms and plant foods, this compound is therefore suitable for vegans and vegetarians. However, the body has more difficulties absorbing and storing it than vitamin D3. This type of supplement is mostly recommended for individuals on strict vegetarian diets.

Why take vitamin D supplements and not calcium?

A few years ago, experts recommended including calcium supplements in the diet of older people, and particularly for menopausal women at risk of bone damage. An excessive intake in calcium has recently begun to be associated with a paradoxical increase in fractures.

Excessive calcium supplementation can lead to other undesirable side effects, such as kidney stones and arterial calcifications. While vitamin D helps build strong bones, its relation with these unpleasant occurrences is not as evident. A proper diet can easily provide us with the calcium our body needs.

Shopping Criteria

Searching for the perfect supplement can be a real pain in the neck. We’ve compiled the most relevant purchasing factors below to make it easier for you when choosing a vitamin D supplement. Make sure to consider the following characteristics to find the product that will best suit your needs:

  • Allergens
  • Pharmacological interactions
  • Vegan or vegetarian nutrition
  • Absorption capacity
  • Method of ingestion
  • Value for your money

Allergens

Unfortunately, vitamin D supplements can cause allergic reactions in some people. Check the ingredients of the supplement of your choice, especially the excipients. You may find traces of soy, corn or nuts, and you should consult the manufacturer or your doctor if you are unsure whether you are sensitive to a particular component.

Pharmacological interactions

Vitamin D can have interactions with many different medications, which can enhance or reduce their expected effectiveness.

It is strongly recommended to talk to your doctor before using vitamin D supplements if you follow any of these treatments:

  • Medication for chronic renal failure
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Hypolipidemic agents (cholesterol-lowering medications)
  • Medication for the treatment of psoriasis
  • Certain antibiotics
  • Digoxin (antiarrhythmic treatment)
  • Antihypertensive treatment
  • Certain diuretics
  • Corticoids
  • Laxatives

Vegan or vegetarian nutrition

You should pay particular attention to your vitamin D supplements iff you follow a strict vegetarian diet. As we have mentioned earlier, vitamin D3 comes from animal sources such as oily fish oil and is therefore not suitable for vegans. D2 or ergocalciferol supplements are the only products with a 100% vegetable origin.

You may find certain supplements advertised as “vegan vitamin D3” on the market. For instance, a company contacted reported getting cholecalciferol from a lichen. It can be extremely difficult to verify such claims, so we strongly suggest that you use ergocalciferol in order to be sure you are consuming a product that is 100% vegan.

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Vitamin D can be administered via capsules. This method is particularly used for adults.(Source: Puhhhar: 47895081/ 123rf.com)

Method of ingestion

Make sure you are comfortable with the method of ingestion of the supplement when making your decision. The treatment needs to be taken continuously in order to reach an adequate vitamin D intake, and it will be much easier if you choose a product that suits you.

Here are different forms of vitamin D supplements:

  • Tablets: These tablets are coated with an excipient that gives them a better taste and makes them easier to swallow.
  • Softgels: They ease ingestion and make absorption faster. The coating is gelatine (or a vegan alternative).
  • Oral spray: Designed for people who have difficulty swallowing tablets. It is recommended to spray it in the mouth, although some people use it on food with good results.
  • Drops: This is another useful form for those with swallowing difficulties. The use of a dropper allows to better dose the amount of supplement.

Value for your money

You can find packages with enough vitamin D to last you for a whole year. We strongly recommend you to opt for these products iff you need long-term supplementation. Although the initial investment might seem higher (about 10 dollars more than a 3-month pack), you will save a lot in the long run.

Summary

Also known as the “sunshine vitamin”, vitamin D gives us strength and vitality. However, our increasingly sedentary lifestyle exposes many of us to a lack of this molecule. You should truly consider adding vitamin D2 or D3 supplements to your diet if you want to keep strong bones, an active immune system and a sharp mind.

We hope our article has helped you better understand this nutrient. Make sure you use this information to choose the right supplement for you and you will reap all the benefits of vitamin D. Conscious and responsible supplementing will contribute to you enjoying a full, active and happy life.

If you liked our vitamin D guide, feel free to leave a comment and share this article on your social media!

(Source of featured image: Songpracone: 53649602/ 123rf.com)

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