Vitamin D can act as an antioxidant, regulate immune activity, support cardiovascular health, modulate blood sugar balance, and more. We need vitamin D to help the body absorb calcium and phosphate from our diet. These minerals are important for healthy bones, teeth and muscles.

Vitamin D, commonly known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ is produced naturally in the skin when it is exposed to sunlight. You can also get it through certain foods. Vitamin D has long been known to help build strong bones by increasing the body’s absorption of calcium and phosphorous. However, its benefits go well beyond bone health to all parts of the body. Vitamin D can act as an antioxidant, regulate immune activity, support cardiovascular health, modulate blood sugar balance, and more.

There is much more about this supposed vitamin that remains misunderstood. First, vitamin D is not a vitamin. In fact, it’s more of a steroid hormone, similar to estrogen, testosterone, and cholesterol.

Vitamin D does not refer to a single nutrient but a group of natural steroid chemicals, there are hundreds of different steroids found in plants and animals. Because of its hormone structure, vitamin D gets cells ready for other important hormones to do their work. It also helps the body absorb calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc in the intestines.

Sources and forms of vitamin D

Another source of vitamin D is dietary supplements.

Vitamin D from sunlight: Sunlight can be a potent natural driver of vitamin D synthesis. A 20-minute total-body exposure to sunlight produces approximately 10,000-20,000 IU of vitamin D.2,3.

Dietary sources of vitamin D: Aside from the sun, you can also get extra vitamin D through a few foods, like fatty fish (including salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines) and mushrooms (some of which are exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light to increase vitamin D levels). Foods like milk, orange juice, yogurt, and breakfast cereals can also be fortified with vitamin D. And of course, you can always go the supplement route, in the form of vitamin D3, if your doctor thinks it’s necessary.

Health benefits of vitamin D:

It strengthens your bones: Vitamin D is famous for its bone-building and strengthening powers. Bone health is dependent on the dynamic process of remodeling. Vitamin D, along with other nutrients – like calcium – and hormones, helps bones to constantly rebuild as they naturally break down. You need vitamin D for bone growth – and to prevent bones from becoming brittle. When teamed with calcium, it can help prevent osteoporosis – one of the main causes of fractures and broken bones in the elderly.

Vitamin D can help building muscles: Along with its bone-building abilities, vitamin D is also influential in strengthening muscles. Lack of vitamin D in the body can increase the risk of having weak muscles, which in turn increases the risk of falls. Vitamin D may help increase muscle strength thus preventing falls, which is a common problem that leads to substantial disability in old age.

It supports the immune system: Vitamin D can also help build immunity. It can support the immune system by fighting off harmful bacteria and viruses. In fact, this role in possibly preventing infections has become a critical concern during COVID-19 pandemic, as researchers are interested in its potential role in infection outcomes. Studies indicate that high latitudes and winter season are risk factors for both low vitamin D, increased influenza, and other respiratory illness and adverse outcomes.

It can help battle depression: The sun can brighten up your mood, and so can vitamin D. Researchers have found a significant relationship between depression and vitamin D deficiency.

How do we get vitamin D?

Our body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on our skin when we’re outdoors. From about late March/early April to the end of September, most people should be able to get all the vitamin D we need from sunlight.

We also get some vitamin D from a small number of foods, including oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines, as well as red meat and eggs. 

Vitamin D is also added to all infant formula milk, as well as some breakfast cereals, fat spreads and non-dairy milk alternatives. 

The amounts added to these products can vary and may only be added in small amounts. Manufacturers must add vitamin D to infant formula milk by law.

Most people can make enough vitamin D from being out in the sun daily for short periods with their forearms, hands or lower legs uncovered and without sunscreen from late March or early April to the end of September, especially from 11am to 3pm.

There’s no risk of your body making too much vitamin D from sun exposure, but always remember to cover up or protect your skin before the time it takes you to start turning red or burn.