Vitamin D3: benefits, sources, deficiency and risks (2023)

Also known as the "sunshine vitamin", vitamin D is an essential nutrient available through sun exposure, dietary sources and supplements. This vitamin plays a key role in many aspects of health, including bone health, immune function, and more.

However, many people forget this, and some studies estimate that nearly 48% of the world's population has low levels of vitamin D in their blood.[1]Cui A i in.Global and regional prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in population studies 2000-2022: pooled analysis of 7.9 million participants. Front nut 2023;10:1070808.. Vitamin D3 supplements can be a safe and practical option to meet your needs, especially if you are at risk for deficiency or deficiency.

In this article, we discuss how vitamin D3 can benefit your health, how to meet your needs, and the potential safety issues and side effects of supplementation.

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Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3

Vitamin D comes in two different forms; ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) and cholecalciferol (vitamin D3), each slightly different in chemical structure. "Vitamin D3 is obtained from animal sources, while vitamin D2 is mainly derived from mushroom sources," explains Dr. John White, head of the department of physiology at McGill University in Montreal and a molecular biologist who has conducted extensive research on vitamin D.

Although both forms are well absorbed in the gut, vitamin D3 may be a better choice for supplementation. According to a small study, vitamin D3 may be more effective at raising blood levels of vitamin D than vitamin D2[2]Shieh A i in.Effect of high doses of vitamin D2 versus D3 on total and free 25-hydroxyvitamin D and markers of calcium balance. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2016;101(8):3070-8.. On the other hand, Dr. White notes that vitamin D2 may be a better choice if you follow a vegan diet becausevitamin D3 supplementsthey are often of animal origin.

Benefits of Vitamin D3

Maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D can have several potential benefits:

Improves bone health

"Vitamin D3 is essential for the absorption and use of calcium and phosphorus, which are essential for maintaining strong and healthy bones," says Sam Schleiger, functional medicine nutritionist and founder of Simply Nourished, a nutrition practice in Elkhorn, Wisconsin.

Vitamin D is also needed to support bone growth and bone remodeling, the body's process that removes old bone tissue from the skeleton and creates new bone tissue. “Severe vitamin D deficiency leads to rickets [softening and weakening of the bones] in children andosteomalaciaor soft bones in adults because there is not enough calcium in the bones,” notes Dr. White.

Promotes immune functions

Vitamin D is essential forimmune healthand disease prevention. Some studies even suggest that vitamin D deficiency may exacerbate or increase the incidence of certain autoimmune diseases, such asRheumatoid arthritis[3]Ao T i in.Effects of vitamin D on the immune system and inflammatory diseases. biomolecule. 2021;11(11):1624.. "There is also evidence that maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D reduces the long-term risk of certain types of cancer," adds Dr. White for it.

According to one review, vitamin D supplementation may be associated with a reduced risk of certain infections, including influenza and COVID-19[4]Grant WB i in.Evidence that vitamin D supplementation may reduce the risk of infection and death from influenza and COVID-19. Nutrients. 2020;12(4):988.. What's more, another study shows that low levels of vitamin D may even be associated with a higher risk of multiple sclerosis[5]Sintzel MB i in.Vitamin D and multiple sclerosis: a comprehensive review. Neurol Ther. 2018;7(1):59-85..

May help with weight management

Some research suggests that obesity may be related to low vitamin D levels. It is also believed that vitamin D may affect body weight by regulating the growth of fat cells and altering the expression of certain genes and the levels of hunger-influencing hormones such as leptin[6]Karampela I i in.Vitamin D and obesity: current evidence and controversy. Curr Obes 2021;10(2):162-180..

While more research is needed, a very small study found that combining vitamin D supplements with a weight loss diet resulted in greater weight and fat loss than using a weight loss diet alone[7]Lotfi-Dizaji L, et al.Effect of vitamin D supplementation along with a weight loss diet on meta-inflammation and fat mass in vitamin D-deficient obese subjects: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2019;90(1):94-101..

It regulates the mood

"Vitamin D3 is involved in the production and regulation of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which is important for mood regulation," says Schleiger. "Adequate levels of vitamin D3 can help improve mood and overall mental well-being."

Interestingly, a review of 25 studies found that vitamin D supplementation may reduce negative emotions, especially in people with major depressive disorder or vitamin D deficiency.[8]Cheng Y-C i in.The effect of vitamin D supplementation on negative emotions: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Depressive anxiety. Jun 2020;37(6):549-564.. In addition, other studies show that low vitamin D levels may be associated with elevated vitamin D levelsdepression symptomsand fear[9]Akpinar S i in.Is Vitamin D Important for Anxiety or Depression? What's the truth?. Representative of Curr Nutr 2022;11(4):675-681..

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Sources of vitamin D3

Vitamin D3 is found naturally in several food sources, including fatty fish and cod liver oil. Other animal products such as egg yolks, cheese and beef liver also contain a small amount of vitamin D3 per serving.

Here are some food sources of vitamin D3 and the percentage of the Daily Value (DV) they provide, according to the National Institutes of Health[10]Vitamin D. National Institutes of Health. Accessed May 17, 2023.:

FoodParticipationVitamin D levels%ADH
Cod liver oil1 large spoon1,360 international units170%
Rainbow trout, cookedThree days645 international units81%
Sockeye salmon, priestThree days570 international units71%
Whipped egg1 large44 international units6%
Beef liver, stewedThree days42 international units5%
Canned tuna in waterThree days40 international units5%
Mr. Cheddar1,5 ons17 international units2%

Can you get vitamin D3 from the sun?

While vitamin D3 is available in supplements and various dietary sources, you can also meet your needs through regular sun exposure. This is because the skin produces vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun.

However, you don't need to sunbathe to meet your vitamin D needs (and sun protection is still important to reduce your risk of skin cancer). As long as the outside temperature is above 45 degrees Fahrenheit, about 20 minutes of sun exposure on the face and hands is generally enough to produce enough vitamin D in the skin to maintain adequate vitamin D levels, notes Dr. Whiten.

Keep in mind that certain factors can affect the amount of sunlight you need to meet your vitamin D needs, including skin pigmentation and age. Your location, time of year, and time of day can also affect the amount of vitamin D your skin produces.

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Precautions related to vitamin D3

It's best to talk to your doctor before starting supplementation, especially if you're taking other medications or have underlying medical conditions. According to Schleiger, vitamin D supplements may interact with certain medications, including corticosteroids and medications for seizures or high cholesterol. It also adds that high-dose supplements may not be appropriate for people with certain medical conditions, such as hyperparathyroidism, sarcoidosis or kidney disease.

While it is possible to get too much vitamin D3, it is rare. "Supplementation can cause vitamin D toxicity, but you have to try very, very, very hard," says Dr. White. "For example, there are clinical trials where patients receive 100,000 to as much as 600,000 IU (International Units) in boluses without side effects."

However, taking very high doses of vitamin D over a long period of time can cause vitamin D toxicity, which can lead to elevated blood calcium levels, explains Schleiger. "[It] can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, weakness, excessive thirst, frequent urination, and in severe cases, kidney stones or organ damage," she says.

The upper limit of supplementation is 4,000 international units per day, according to Dr. White. And while he notes that this amount is most likely conservative, 4,000 IU is still more than most people should take.

"Following recommended dosing guidelines and regularly monitoring your vitamin D levels with blood tests can help ensure safe and effective supplementation," says Schleiger.

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Vitamin D3: benefits, sources, deficiency and risks? ›

Few foods are naturally rich in vitamin D3. The best sources are the flesh of fatty fish and fish liver oils. Smaller amounts are found in egg yolks, cheese, and beef liver.

What are the main sources of vitamin D3? ›

Few foods are naturally rich in vitamin D3. The best sources are the flesh of fatty fish and fish liver oils. Smaller amounts are found in egg yolks, cheese, and beef liver.

What are the deficiencies of vitamin D3? ›

Vitamin D deficiency can lead to a loss of bone density, which can contribute to osteoporosis and fractures (broken bones). Severe vitamin D deficiency can also lead to other diseases: In children, it can cause rickets. Rickets is a rare disease that causes the bones to become soft and bend.

What are three main causes of vitamin D3 deficiency? ›

From age and skin color to chronic conditions like celiac disease, here are 8 common factors that can contribute to low vitamin D levels.
  • Certain chronic conditions. ...
  • Obesity. ...
  • Kidney disease. ...
  • Age. ...
  • Skin color. ...
  • Certain medications. ...
  • Bariatric surgery. ...
  • Limited sun exposure.
Aug 11, 2020

What are the 14 signs of vitamin D deficiency? ›

These include:
  • Aching Muscles. Aching muscles can be a sign of vitamin D deficiency because this nutrient is essential for keeping your muscles healthy. ...
  • Painful Bones. ...
  • Fatigue. ...
  • Reduced Endurance. ...
  • Low Moods. ...
  • Problems Sleeping Well. ...
  • Sweaty Head. ...
  • Losing Hair.
May 18, 2023

What is the most effective form of vitamin D3? ›

Best softgel option: NatureWise Vitamin D3, 5000 IU, 125 mcg, 360 softgels. According to the manufacturers, these softgels are more bioavailable than tablet or powder forms of vitamin D. This means that vitamin D can enter a person's circulation more quickly and easily than other forms.

Can D3 cause problems? ›

These calcium deposits in the kidneys can lead to a condition known as nephrocalcinosis, which can lead to permanent kidney damage or even kidney failure. Research has found that when people took more than 3,600,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D3, they were more likely to experience kidney damage.

What organs does vitamin D3 affect? ›

Skin Liver and Kidneys

Vitamin D undergoes further chemical changes, first in the liver and then in the kidneys, to become calcitriol. Calcitriol acts on the intestine, kidneys, and bones to maintain normal levels of blood calcium and phosphorus.

Does D3 deficiency cause Fatigue? ›

Yes, if you're not getting enough vitamin D you will likely experience low energy and feel tired. An observational study, this one in 200 female nurses, found that only 9.5% of them had normal vitamin D levels, while 89% were found to have vitamin D deficiency.

What happens to your body if you take vitamin D3 everyday? ›

The main consequence of vitamin D toxicity is a buildup of calcium in your blood (hypercalcemia), which can cause nausea and vomiting, weakness, and frequent urination. Vitamin D toxicity might progress to bone pain and kidney problems, such as the formation of calcium stones.

How does vitamin D3 make you feel? ›

Research has shown that vitamin D might play an important role in regulating mood and decreasing the risk of depression. A review of 7,534 people found that those experiencing negative emotions who received vitamin D supplements noticed an improvement in symptoms.

What is vitamin D3 good for hair? ›

Inflammation in the scalp can damage hair follicles and impede healthy hair growth. Research has shown that vitamin D3 has anti-inflammatory properties that can help to reduce hair loss. Additionally, vitamin D3 has been shown to stimulate the production of new hair follicles, which can lead to thicker, fuller hair.

How serious is vitamin D3 deficiency? ›

When vitamin D levels are low and the body isn't able to properly absorb calcium and phosphorus, there is an increased risk of bone pain, bone fractures, muscle pain and muscle weakness. In older adults, severe vitamin D deficiency (levels less than 10 ng/mL) may also contribute to an increased risk of falls.

How soon will I feel better after taking vitamin D3? ›

If someone has a severe vitamin D deficiency, it may take several weeks of regular supplementation before they start to see symptom improvement. Someone with mild to moderate deficiency may notice improvement within a few weeks.

Can low vitamin D cause anxiety? ›

Vitamin D insufficiency may relate to higher levels of anxiety and depression, in turn contributing to the elevated risk of psychosis in this population.

How can I get vitamin D3 daily? ›

Vitamin D isn't naturally found in many foods, but you can get it from fortified milk, fortified cereal, and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines. Your body also makes vitamin D when direct sunlight converts a chemical in your skin into an active form of the vitamin (calciferol).

How can I get vitamin D3 fast? ›

4 Fast Ways to Boost Your Vitamin D in Winter
  1. Add More Fish, Eggs, and Mushrooms to Your Diet. Certain types of fish and seafood are naturally rich in vitamin D. ...
  2. Use an Ultraviolet (UV) Lamp. ...
  3. Try Nutritional Supplements. ...
  4. Add in Vitamin D Fortified Foods.
Oct 14, 2022

What fruits and vegetables are high in vitamin D3? ›

Top Foods for Calcium and Vitamin D
  • Spinach.
  • Kale.
  • Okra.
  • Collards.
  • Soybeans.
  • White beans.
  • Some fish, like sardines, salmon, perch, and rainbow trout.
  • Foods that are calcium-fortified, such as some orange juice, oatmeal, and breakfast cereal.


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