Vitamin D

Last Updated: November 30, 2023

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that our skin synthesizes when exposed to the sun. It benefits us in many ways, from bone health to mood.

Vitamin D is most often used for

What is vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient. It is one of the 24 micronutrients critical for human survival. The sun is the major natural source, through eliciting vitamin D production in the skin, but vitamin D is also found naturally in oily fish and eggs and is often added to milk and milk alternatives.

Is there a difference between Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3?

What are some dietary sources of vitamin D3?

What are vitamin D’s main benefits?

Supplemental vitamin D is associated with a range of benefits, including improved immune health, bone health, and well-being. Supplementation may also reduce the risk of cancer mortality, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. Vitamin D is often taken for depression and similar mental health issues, but the evidence is mixed as to whether supplementation improves these outcomes.

The effects of vitamin D likely depend on a person’s circulating levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D; a form of vitamin D that is measured in blood samples to determine vitamin D status), and many of the benefits of supplementation will only be seen when a deficiency is reversed.

Can vitamin D cure depression?

Can vitamin D supplementation help with symptoms of depression?

Can vitamin D status affect testosterone levels?

Is there a link between vitamin D levels and all-cause mortality?

Can vitamin D supplementation improve symptoms of multiple sclerosis?

Can vitamin D supplementation help with treatment or prevention of Alzheimer’s disease?

Can vitamin D supplementation help with the treatment or prevention of other neurodegenerative diseases?

What are vitamin D’s main drawbacks?

Extremely high doses of vitamin D can lead to vitamin D toxicity, which causes hypercalcemia (excess calcium in the blood), leading to and array of health problems[1]

Vitamin D supplementation may also have risks independent of vitamin D toxicity. A few trials on older adults have found that vitamin D increased the risk of falls,[2][3] and one study observed a decrease in bone mineral density among women taking high doses of vitamin D.[4]

Do vitamin D supplements interact with any medications?

How does vitamin D work?


Vitamin D exerts its effects by binding to and activating the vitamin D receptor (VDR). Upon binding vitamin D, the VDR functions as a transcription factor, regulating the activity of over 1,000 different genes.[5] This ‘genomic’ action of vitamin D tends to be slower-acting, requiring the synthesis of new mRNA and proteins to take effect.

Vitamin D also works through ‘non-genomic’ mechanisms, causing rapid activation of various signaling pathways within the cell. Although VDRs have been identified on cell membranes, it isn’t currently known whether the more rapid, non-genomic action of vitamin D occurs through membrane-associated vitamin D receptors, or a different cellular receptor.[6]

Although the most commonly associated effects of vitamin D on the body are associated with bone metabolism, the almost ubiquitous presence of VDRs in cells and tissues throughout the body indicates that vitamin D can affect a wide range of physiological processes.[7] The additional effects of vitamin D on the body include, but aren’t limited to, the following:[8]

  • Anticancer effects (promotion of cell death or suppressing proliferation in cancer cells)
  • Brain development[9]
  • Cell differentiation[10][11]
  • Anti-inflammatory effects[12]
  • Antioxidant effects[13]
  • Antibacterial effects (through vitamin D’s effects on immune cells, and its promotion of the expression of genes encoding antimicrobial peptides)[14]
  • Blood vessel protection[15]
  • Nervous system health
  • Calcium regulation

How much fat do I need to absorb vitamin D?

Does sunscreen decrease vitamin D?

How much sun do I need for vitamin D production?

Who needs to supplement vitamin D?

What are some of the factors that can increase the risk of having a vitamin D deficiency?

Can I get enough vitamin D3 from diet and sun exposure alone, or do I need to take supplements?

How much vitamin D should I take?

Can I get too much vitamin D?

Should vitamin D supplements be given to infants and children?

What else is Vitamin D known as?
Note that Vitamin D is also known as:
  • Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3)
  • Ergocalciferol (Vitamin D2)
Vitamin D should not be confused with:
  • Calcitriol or 1
  • 25-Dihydroxyvitamin D (Hormonally active yet not directly supplemented form)
Update History
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  3. ^Lawrence J Appel, Erin D Michos, Christine M Mitchell, Amanda L Blackford, Alice L Sternberg, Edgar R Miller 3rd, Stephen P Juraschek, Jennifer A Schrack, Sarah L Szanton, Jeanne Charleston, Melissa Minotti, Sheriza N Baksh, Robert H Christenson, Josef Coresh, Lea T Drye, Jack M Guralnik, Rita R Kalyani, Timothy B Plante, David M Shade, David L Roth, James Tonascia, STURDY Collaborative Research GroupThe Effects of Four Doses of Vitamin D Supplements on Falls in Older Adults : A Response-Adaptive, Randomized Clinical TrialAnn Intern Med.(2021 Feb)
  4. ^Lauren A Burt, Emma O Billington, Marianne S Rose, Richard Kremer, David A Hanley, Steven K BoydAdverse Effects of High-Dose Vitamin D Supplementation on Volumetric Bone Density Are Greater in Females than MalesJ Bone Miner Res.(2020 Dec)
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