What is vitamin D3?
Taya Zaria/ShutterstockFirst things first. Vitamin D3 (also known as cholecalciferol) is the most common and bioavailable form of vitamin D. You can get it from a few foods (usually fortified ones, though the quantities are small), but the most common route is from sunlight on your skin. Although the vitamin is essential for a long list of bodily functions, many people don't get nearly enough—especially in the winter. "Most people need supplements," says Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN. Recent studies estimate that more than one billion people have low levels of vitamin D. Also, note that sunblock—which is essential for all these compelling reasons—inhibits the production and absorption of vitamin D3.
How much you need and how best to actually get it
Marian Weyo/ShutterstockThe FDA recommends between 600 and 4000 IU per day for children and adults, but it can be hard to meet this dose in winter. "Vitamin D3 isn't found in many foods, but some dairy products, cereals, and grains are fortified with vitamin D3 to help people increase their intake," says Craig Elbert, CEO of Care/of.
"Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines as well as eggs and shiitake mushrooms are other dietary sources of vitamin D3, but it's important to note that the absorption of vitamin D3 from our foods is dependent on adequate bile presence and adequate iron status," says nutrition expert Pam Machemehl-Helmly, BS, founder and chief science officer of Wellnicity. As mentioned, even in those foods with vitamin D3, there may not be enough of the vitamin present to get enough. Test your blood levels to know your status.
Boosts your mood
Halfpoint/ShutterstockYour brain has vitamin D3 receptors, points out Machemehl-Helmly: "Low levels of vitamin D3 may contribute to issues with mood because it's a nutrient needed to help the body make neurotransmitters—chemical messengers that help regulate our mood," she says. Here are some more nutrients that can wreck your mood if you fall short.
Protects your heart
megaflopp/ShutterstockEmerging research has shown that vitamin D3 may play a role in regulating blood sugar and ultimately supporting long-term heart health, according to Elbert. "It's also important to remember that the body's functions are all interconnected, so when we support one aspect, like bone health, we're supporting all of our essential functions."
Strengthens your bones
Suphaksorn Thongwongboot/ShutterstockAmy Shapiro MS, RD, CDN and founder of Real Nutrition NYC notes that vitamin D3 helps regulate calcium and phosphorus, which leads to healthy, strong bones. "It's also needed for bone growth and formation," says Shapiro. "Vitamin D3 deficiencies can lead to an increased risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis." Here are other habits that may be giving you osteoporosis.
Helps prevent cancer
279photo Studio/ShutterstockSome research links vitamin D3 to cancer prevention—specifically colon, prostate, and breast cancers. The theory makes sense because the vitamin helps regulate cell growth, potentially stalling the development of new blood vessels in cancerous tissues. Both Shapiro and Levinson note, however, that more research is needed before scientists fully understand this relationship.
Preserves your memory
mimagephotography/ShutterstockRemember those vitamin D3 receptors in your brain? When they don't get enough D3, they may malfunction and increase your risk of dementia: "A recent study found that "the risk for cognitive impairment was up to four times greater in those who had vitamin D levels below 25 when compared to those who had levels 75 and above," notes Machemehl-Helmly. Here are more things you can do to boost memory.
Boosts your immunity
Peter Bernik/ShutterstockVitamin D3 is a reparative vitamin. "The cells that make up our immune system need vitamin D3 to fight pathogens such as viruses and other germs," explains Machemehl-Helmly. "When the levels of vitamin D3 are deficient or insufficient you may get sick more often and possibly not be able to properly fight infection." Here are more ways you may be sabotaging your immune system.
Calms your blood pressure
forma82/ShutterstockAccording to Machemehl-Helmly vitamin D3 plays a role in modulating the system that controls blood pressure. In fact, there are a number of foods that can work to keep blood pressure down.
Soothes your stomach
Irina Bg/ShutterstockVitamin D3 plays a role in modulating the inflammatory processes in the gut, which is why, according to Machemehl-Helmly, those with inflammatory bowel diseases such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome tend to have lower levels of vitamin D3. "Low levels of vitamin D3 may result in increased inflammation in the digestive tract which can exacerbate symptoms associated with IBS." You'll also want to avoid these foods if you have IBS.