Vitamin D is found in numerous dietary sources such as fish, eggs, fortified milk, and cod liver oil. The sun is also a significant contributor to our daily production of vitamin D, and as little as 10 minutes of exposure is thought to be enough to prevent deficiencies. The term “vitamin D” refers to several different forms of this vitamin. Two forms are important in humans: ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) and cholecalciferol (vitamin D3). Vitamin D2 is synthesized by plants. Vitamin D3 is synthesized by humans in the skin when it is exposed to ultraviolet-B (UVB) rays from sunlight or the diet.
The major biologic function of vitamin D is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, helping to form and maintain strong bones. Recently, research also suggests vitamin D may provide protection from osteoporosis, hypertension, cancer, and several autoimmune diseases.
Deficiency: Rickets and osteomalacia are classic vitamin D deficiency diseases. In children, vitamin D deficiency causes rickets, which results in skeletal deformities. In adults, vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteomalacia, which results in muscular weakness in addition to weak bones. People who are at a high risk for vitamin D deficiencies are the elderly, dark skinned, obese, exclusively breast-fed infants, and those who cover all exposed skin or use sunscreen whenever outside. Also, those who have fat malabsorption syndromes (e.g., cystic fibrosis) or inflammatory bowel disease (e.g., Crohn’s disease) are at risk.
Adequate Intake (AI): AI levels have been established by the U.S. Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences to prevent deficiencies in vitamin D. The AI is 5 mcg (200 IU) daily for all individuals (males, female, pregnant/lactating women) under the age of 50-years-old, 10 mcg daily (400 IU) for all individuals from 50-70 years-old, and 15 mcg daily (600 IU) for those who are over the age of 70-years-old. The daily “upper limit” for vitamin D is 25 mcg (1,000 IU) for infants up to 12 months of age and 50 mcg (2,000 IU) for children, adults, pregnant, and lactating women due to toxicities that can occur when taken in higher doses.
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