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Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol)

Vitamin D3 (also called Cholecalciferol) is one of five different forms of Vitamin D. Vitamin D3 and Vitamin D2 are considered important for human health. We need Vitamin D because it helps us to absorb calcium, magnesium, phosphate, iron and zinc from our foods. However, unlike other vitamins (which cannot be synthesised by the body and must therefore be ingested), Vitamin D can be synthesised by the body, when the skin is exposed to sunlight.

Sources of Vitamin D3

vitamin d3 - sunshine

There are two ways of getting Vitamin D3 in to the body - through exposure to sunlight or by ingestion.

Exposure to sunlight is our greatest source of Vitamin D3. The UVB radiation in sunlight enables a reaction in the epidermal layer of our skin to convert a compound, 7-Dehydrocholesterol, into Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3).

Vitamin D3 can also be obtained through diet, but there are only a small number of foods that naturally contain it: alfalfa, lichen, fish liver oils, ‘fatty’ fish species (salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines), and eggs and beef and liver contain small amounts.
However, cholecalciferol is also produced industrially for use as a food supplement and many ‘fortified’ but processed foods, such as breakfast cereals, contain it.

Vitamin D3 deficiency

A lack of Vitamin D results in impaired bone mineralization and bone damage which leads to bone-softening diseases such as Osteomalacia, also known as Ricketts when it affects children. This disease can cause bending of the spine, bowing of the legs, muscle weakness, increased bone fragility and a greater risk of fractures. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, children under the age of 5 years, older people over the age of 65 years, people who have low on no exposure to sunlight (for example, the housebound) and people who have darker skin tones are more at risk of Vitamin D deficiency. In the UK, pregnant and breast feeding women are recommended to take Vitamin D supplements (0.01mg) daily.

Health benefits

Aside from the obvious benefits in avoiding the health problems caused by Vitamin D deficiency there has, in recent years, been an increased interest in the other potential health benefits of Vitamin D3. There is evidence that Vitamin D could play a role in preventing/relieving a wide range of serious conditions:

  • Multiple Sclerosis: there some evidence that Vitamin D reduces your risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis (Munger et al, 2006 and Mokry et al, 2015 ), and may also help reduce relapse in those with the disease (Smolders et al, 2008).
  • Heart Disease: studies have indicated that Vitamin D may help in decreasing your chance of developing heart disease (Wang, et al, 2008).
  • Flu: some studies suggest Vitamin D3 can reduce the risks of people developing flu (Urashima et al, 2010).
  • Parkinsons: A 2013 study found that supplementing with Vitamin D3 may reduce deterioration in people with Parkinsons (Suzuki et al, 2013)
  • Alzheimers: a recent study suggests that there is a link between Vitamin D deficiency and cognitive decline (Miller et al, 2015)
  • Cancer: several studies indicate that lower levels of Vitamin D3 are associated with higher risks of various cancers, including colorectal cancer and breast cancer (Freedman et al, 2008; Garland et al, 2007; Giovannucci, 2007; Goreham et al 2007; Yin et al, 2009).

As it is a relatively new area of research there is still much to learn about any potential benefits of Vitamin D3 and many more studies are needed before the health benefits of supplementing with Vitamin D3 can be confirmed. However, the early indicators are very positive and there is hope that, with further understanding of the effects of Vitamin D3 on the human body, we will potentially help to prevent deadly diseases and provide relief to millions of people suffering debilitating conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis .

Too much Vitamin D3

It is impossible to over-dose on Vitamin D by over-exposure to sunlight (which should always be avoided for other health reasons) as your body naturally stops producing and absorbing Vitamin D once it has reached equilibrium. However, though rare, people with existing medical conditions (such as hyperparathyroidism) can over-dose on Vitamin D by ingesting large amounts of supplemental Vitamin D, causing a condition known as hypercalcaemia - where the body absorbs more calcium than can be excreted.

There is a delicate balance between too much and too little calcium in your blood and therefore supplementation should remain conservative and within accepted limits at present despite many doctors recommending a very high daily dosage.

  • Hypercalcemia can also be caused by:
  • Overactive parathyroid glands
  • Cancer.
  • Disease
  • Immobility.
  • Medications
  • Supplements (excessive).
  • Hereditary factors.
  • Dehydration (usually temporary)

Hypercalcamia can cause renal failure and irreversible kidney damage, as well as damaging bone tissue.

Before taking any additional supplements or making any changes to your diet it is always best to discuss it with your doctor first.

References

  • Freedman DM, Chang SC, Falk RT, (2008). Serum levels of vitamin D metabolites and breast cancer risk in the prostate, lung, colorectal, and ovarian cancer screening trial. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev.; 17:889-94.
  • Garland CF, Gorham ED, Mohr SB, et al (2007) Vitamin D and prevention of breast cancer: pooled analysis. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol.; 103:708-11.
  • Giovannucci E. (2007) Epidemiological evidence for vitamin D and colorectal cancer. J Bone Miner Res.; 22 Suppl 2:V81-5.
  • Gorham ED, Garland CF, Garland FC, et al (2007) Optimal vitamin D status for colorectal cancer prevention: a quantitative meta analysis. Am J Prev Med. 32:210-6.
  • Miller JW, Harvey DJ, Beckett LA; Green R, Farias ST, Reed BR, Olichney JM, Mungas DM, Charles DeCarli C, (2015) Vitamin D Status and Rates of Cognitive Decline in a Multiethnic Cohort of Older Adults, JAMA Neurol. 2015;72(11):1295-1303.
  • Mokry LE, Ross S, Ahmad OS, Forgetta V, Smith GD, Leong A, et al. (2015) Vitamin D and Risk of Multiple Sclerosis: A Mendelian Randomization Study. PLoS Med 12(8): e1001866. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001866.
  • Munger KL, Levin LI, Hollis BW, Howard NS, Ascherio A.(2006), Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and risk of multiple sclerosis, JAMA, Dec 20;296(23):2832-8.
  • Smolders J, Menheere P, Kessels A, Damoiseaux J, Hupperts R. (2008), Association of vitamin D metabolite levels with relapse rate and disability in multiple sclerosis. Mult Scler, Nov;14(9):1220-4.
  • Suzuki M, Yoshioka M, Hashimoto M, Murakami M, Noya M, Takahashi D, Urashima M (2013) Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of vitamin D supplementation in Parkinson disease, Am J Clin Nutr , vol. 97 no. 5 1004-1013
  • Urashima M, Segawa T, Okazaki M, Kurihara M, Wada Y, Ida H (2010), Randomized trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren. Am J Clin Nutr. May;91(5):1255-60.
  • Wang TJ, Pencina MJ, Booth SL, Jacques PF, Ingelsson E, Lanier K, Benjamin EJ, D'Agostino RB, Wolf M, Vasan RS. (2008) Vitamin D deficiency and risk of cardiovascular disease, Circulation, Jan 29;117(4):503-11.
  • Yin L, Grandi N, Raum E, Haug U, Arndt V, Brenner H (2009).Meta-analysis: longitudinal studies of serum vitamin D and colorectal cancer risk. Aliment Pharmacol Ther.; 30:113-25.

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