Should You Take Vitamin D?

A recent article by the Cleveland Clinic states that people who are healthy and not undergoing treatments for health problems should not bother taking vitamin D — local experts weigh in

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

For years, health experts touted vitamin D as a companion supplement to aid in absorption of bone-strengthening calcium. Then vitamin D became a veritable panacea and research linked it to supporting nearly every bodily function and system. More recently, the importance of vitamin D has been minimized.

A recent article by the Cleveland Clinic stated that people who are healthy and not undergoing treatments for health problems should not bother taking vitamin D.

WebMD cites several research studies in a recent article to show that vitamin D isn’t a superstar supplement, as it does not appear to lower risk of cancer, stroke or heart attack as once thought (although its role in calcium absorption remained intact).

The National Institutes of Health link excessive vitamin D with stomach discomfort, unusual mental symptoms, and kidney problems.

Noelle Citarella

“There are definite studies that vitamin D deficiency has been linked to autoimmune diseases,” said Noelle Citarella, registered and certified dietitian nutritionist and integrative/functional nutrition certified practitioner at Buffalo Nutrition and Dietetics, PLLC in Buffalo. “Really, the best thing to do is to know your status. You can over supplement.”

Taking too much of anything can be problematic, so patients should ask their primary care provider to test their vitamin D level to see if supplementation is needed and receive guidance as to how much. Most providers will not bring up vitamin D as part of a routine visit.

Vitamin D supplements are not all the same.

“There is a lot of mixed research on D-2 and D-3,” Citarella said. “Some studies say D-2 raises levels as much as D-3. The safe bet is to assess your status and know.”

The body generates vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. That is why it is difficult to measure the body’s vitamin D level without testing.

Amy Beney

“In Western New York, a large part of our population has low vitamin D because we don’t get sunlight six months of the year,” said Amy Beney, registered dietitian at Nutrition Insights, PLLC in Lockport.

She noted that vitamin D has been associated with supporting immune function, emotional health, and bone health. But since vitamin D supplements are not FDA regulated like medication, the supplements do not have the same amount of research that a prescription drug would garner.

Only a handful of foods contain vitamin D and most of them are fatty fish. Egg yolks and mushrooms grown in sunlight as sources, along with fortified foods.

Eat Your Vitamin D?

The daily value for vitamin D is 800 IU (20 mcg). Few naturally occurring food sources of vitamin D-3 exist and most of those are fish. Mushrooms provide only traces of the less helpful D-2 and they are the only vegan, non-supplemental source of either type of vitamin D.

Egg yolk contains 37 IU of vitamin D, although pastured hens may provide three to four times that amount because of their exposure to sunlight. Cod liver oil boasts 450 IU per teaspoon. Canned light tuna offers 269 IU per 3.5-ounce helping.

Try 3.5-ounce servings of these fish for more D-3:

Salmon 526 IU

Fresh Atlantic herring 214 IU

Canned sardines 193 IU

Halibut 190 IU

Mackerel 643 IU

In addition to milk, fortified foods include some brands of breakfast cereal, orange juice and yogurt.