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Vitamin D

Also called: Cholecalciferol, Ergocalciferol


Why do I need vitamin D?

Vitamins are substances that your body needs to grow and develop normally. Vitamin D is important to your body because:

  • It helps your body absorb calcium. Calcium is one of the main building blocks of bone. A lack of vitamin D can lead to bone diseases such as osteoporosis or rickets.
  • It also has a role in your nerve, muscle, and immune systems:
    • Your muscles need it to move
    • Your nerves need it to carry messages between your brain and your body
    • Your immune system needs vitamin D to fight off bacteria and viruses

How do I get vitamin D?

You can get vitamin D in three ways: through your skin, from your diet, and from supplements. Your body forms vitamin D naturally after exposure to sunlight. However, too much sun exposure can lead to skin aging and skin cancer. So many people try to get their vitamin D from other sources.

Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Most people get vitamin D in their diet from foods that are fortified. This means that vitamin D is added to the food. These foods may include milk, cereal, and yogurt. Foods that naturally have vitamin D include egg yolks, saltwater fish, and liver.

Vitamin D is available in supplements. It is also included in many multivitamins. The two forms of vitamin D in supplements are D2 and D3. Both types increase vitamin D in your blood, but D3 might raise it higher and for longer than D2. Vitamin D is fat soluble. You can absorb it better when you take your supplements with a meal or snack that includes some fat.

How much vitamin D do I need?

The amount of vitamin D you need each day depends on your age. The recommended amounts, in international units (IU), are:

  • Birth to 12 months: 400 IU
  • Children 1-13 years: 600 IU
  • Teens 14-18 years: 600 IU
  • Adults 19-70 years: 600 IU
  • Adults 71 years and older: 800 IU
  • People who are pregnant or breastfeeding: 600 IU

But certain people may need extra vitamin D, such as:

Check with your health care provider to see if you need to take vitamin D supplements, and if so, how much you should take. Your provider may want to first do a vitamin D test to see if you are getting enough of it.

NIH: National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements

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The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.