Vitamin D, nicknamed the sunshine vitamin because your body produces it after exposure to the sun, has long been known to help build strong bones by increasing the body’s absorption of calcium and phosphorus. But from 2000, research on the role of vitamin D in other health conditions began to develop rapidly. While there is strong support for vitamin D’s role in bone health, the evidence that it prevents other health problems is not yet conclusive, says Dr. Manson. “Research on vitamin D and calcium supplementation has been mixed and, especially when it comes to randomized clinical trials, has been generally disappointing to date,” she says.

Some of the benefits of vitamin D include:

  • helping the body to absorb calcium for strong bones
  • supporting nerves to carry messages to and from the brain
  • playing a part in muscle movement
  • supporting the immune system to fight infection and disease

There are two forms of vitamin D in the diet:

  • Vitamin D2 : found in some mushrooms.
  • Vitamin D3 : found in oily fish, fish liver oil and egg yolks.

Selected food sources of vitamin D

Food International units
Salmon, pink, cooked, 3 ounces 444
Tuna fish, canned in oil, drained, 3 ounces 229
Sardines, canned in oil, drained, 3 ounces 165
Milk, nonfat, fortified, 8 ounces 116
Orange juice, fortified, 8 ounces 100
Egg, whole, cooked, scrambled, 1 large 44
Cheddar cheese, 1 ounce 7
Frozen yogurt, flavor other than chocolate, 8 ounces 5


To safely take vitamin D supplements, it’s best to stick to some simple guidelines:

  1.  If you’re taking a vitamin D supplement, you probably don’t need more than 600 to 800 IU per day, which is adequate for most people.
  2. If possible, it’s better to get your vitamin D from food sources rather than supplements. Choose fortified dairy products, fatty fish, and sun-dried mushrooms, which are all high in vitamin D.
  3. Discuss supplement use with your doctor to ensure that the amount you’re taking is appropriate for your needs.

Here are a few facts about vitamin D production in the sun:

  • In the more than 70 countries that are positioned north of 35°N, no vitamin D is produced during the winter months.
  • Further north, in countries like Norway (69°N), no vitamin D is produced from October until March.
  • Factors such as clothing, weather, pollution, sunscreen use, weight and genetics may also affect the body’s ability to produce vitamin D.

In direct sunlight, exposing your arms and legs for 5 to 30 minutes between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. is usually sufficient to meet the daily needs of most people with fair skin. People with darker skin may need a little longer.

The Food and Nutrition Board recommend the following intake per day to maintain a healthy level of vitamin D:

Age Recommended daily intake of vitamin D
0 to 12 months 400 IU
1 to 70 years 600 IU
70 years and above 800 IU


Too much vitamin D can be harmful. It is not possible for the body to make too much vitamin D from sun exposure.

Symptoms of having too much vitamin D in the blood include:

  • vomiting
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • weakness
  • kidney damage

Many people get enough vitamin D from the sun and fortified foods. A person who lives in the northern hemisphere may choose to take a supplement during the winter months. If a person has taken too much vitamin D in supplement form, they may show symptoms of vitamin D toxicity. Seeking medical advice can help maintain long-term health.

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