What You Need to Know About Vitamin D |

What You Need to Know About Vitamin D

admin April 4, 2011

If you’ve been around the natural community long enough, you’ve heard the fuss about vitamin D.  For some, it is an absolute miracle cure, and none of us are getting anywhere close to enough.  But others are beginning to say that supplementing is actually not a good idea and can cause more harm than good.  So who’s right…and what do you do?

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a pre-hormone that helps to regulate many of the hormones in your body.  It’s often promoted as “for strong bones,” which is true, but vitamin D is really so much more than that!

Vitamin D’s actions:

  • Helps the body absorb calcium
  • Needed for muscle movement
  • Balances blood sugar
  • Controls inflammation
  • Supports the immune system
  • May protect against several forms of cancer
  • May protect against autoimmune or chronic illnesses

There are several studies about the benefits that vitamin D can provide – and the risks of having levels that are too low.

In fact, low vitamin D levels have been linked to basically every serious health condition.  It’s obvious that we need to have enough…what’s not obvious is what constitutes “enough,” and how should we optimally get it?

How Much Vitamin D Do I Need?

The current RDA for vitamin D is 600 IU (15 mcg) for adults and older children.  It is 400 IU (10 mcg) for babies, and 800 IU (20 mcg) for elderly adults. (source)  These levels are likely inadequate to achieve vitamin D sufficiency; however, we are not meant to get vitamin D from our diets.  We are meant to get it from the sun, and the amount our skin makes is much higher – and not controllable!

Additionally, the mainstream considers vitamin D deficiency to be below 12 ng/ML (nanograms per milliliter); insufficiency to be below 20 ng/ML, and “adequate” to be between 20 and 50 ng/ML. (source)

The studies on optimal levels of vitamin D are sparse.  It’s known that poor health outcomes become much more likely below 20 ng/ML, but in that space between 20 and 50, few studies have been completed on what is the “best” level. (source)

On the flip side, a retrospective study looked at patients with vitamin D levels as high as 120 ng/ML that showed no negative health outcomes – even though the mainstream considers anything above 50 to be “too high.”  (source)

Some natural sources will claim that optimal levels are actually much higher, more like 60 – 80 ng/ML, but I can’t find any evidence of this.  It could be true, but the studies don’t exist right now.  The truth is that no one actually knows what the true optimal level is – except that it definitely needs to be above 20.  And everyone might have a slightly different “optimal level” depending on their age, health condition, hormone balance, health status (pregnant? etc.), and more.

Despite this confusing answer, many people are still below 20, and need to get their levels up!  How do you do that?

A Word on Mega-Dosing Vitamin D Supplements

The natural community has embraced mega-dosing vitamin D (along with mega-dosing many other vitamins) for years.  There is evidence that many health conditions are linked to vitamin D deficiency: autoimmunity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and pretty much every other severe disease out there.  So if we’re all so deficient, and deficiency is so serious, we should all get tons of vitamin D, right?

Not so fast.

Our bodies are meant to be in balance, and all the nutrients we consume contribute to that balance.  If we mega-dose on one nutrient (or try to get our levels sky high), this throws off the balance.  That doesn’t benefit our overall health at all. Too much vitamin D can cause too much calcium in your blood leading to build up in the arteries and other areas (source). It can also cause calcium to be distributed in the wrong places in the body such as soft tissue deposits causing muscle weakness and interference (source).

Vitamin D is obtained from food and supplements in 2 forms, D2 and D3. D2 is mostly from plants and yeast, and D3 is mostly from animals. D3 has shown to help raise blood serum levels the best (source). Most fortified foods and supplements contain D2, because it is easier to produce and cheaper to obtain. 

Vitamin D3 is easily absorbed through the skin since it is fat-soluble. Some studies suggest that D3 is absorbed even better through the skin than ingested (source). D3 has also been linked to improved immunity whereas D2 has not been at this time (source). Some researchers and doctors have even requested that D3 be used for food fortifying and supplementing instead of D2. Like all things, we probably need some of both forms. Find the balance that works best for you. And don’t get too hyped up on the numbers in your blood tests – consider your overall symptoms.

So what about vitamin D Deficiency?

Deficiency *is* really common these days.  But I have some theories on why that is, and ‘why’ matters a lot.  There are two key factors: lack of sun and environmental toxicity.

Lack of sun is pretty obvious.  We’ve been told for years that we should avoid the sun because it will give us cancer, and that we need to wear sunscreen daily, not even walking to the mailbox without.  That was and is completely terrible advice.  We NEED sun exposure, and sun exposure has proven to be more helpful than supplementation in improving metabolic health issues (source).

Environmental toxicity means poor foodwater…and air pollution.  When people are exposed to pollution long-term, they are more likely to develop liver disease (source).  That matters because vitamin D is converted into its active form in the liver.  If the liver is not functioning optimally, that conversion is not happening effectively.  Low vitamin D levels are associated with liver/gut issues (source).

Liver and gut issues are increasingly common, and are associated with a number of health issues.  Multiple sclerosis (source), diabetes (source), and autoimmunity (source).

Giving people more vitamin D without addressing the underlying issues is only so helpful.  Some studies have shown that doing so is beneficial (source), but others have shown uncertain or no benefit (source, source).  Very high-dose vitamin D is well-tolerated in some groups (source), but it can also lead to hypercalcemia (source).

Further, vitamin D is modulated by magnesium (source), a mineral most of us are also deficient in.  If we don’t have enough magnesium, our cells can’t use vitamin D (source).  And mega-doses of vitamin D can actually deplete magnesium levels…meaning our cells can’t even use it all…and that’s helping no one (source).

Magnesium is associated with poor gut health and anxiety (source).  If it’s depleted, even if we get our vitamin D levels up, the problem isn’t solved, it’s just moved.

So what do we do with all of this?

Straight-up vitamin D supplementation can’t solve underlying health problems, and may make things worse.  Ignoring it isn’t a solution either.

How to Get Vitamin D 

Optimal: The Sun

Get 10 – 30 minutes of mid-day sunlight daily as many days per year as possible (until skin turns pink).  Sun is the absolute best source of vitamin D, and where we’re meant to get it from.  Exposing most of your skin to mid-day sun (when the UVB rays are strongest) for 30 minutes can produce up to 20,000 IU of vitamin D.

For years, the mainstream recommended avoiding mid-day sun, in favor of early before (before 10 AM) or late afternoon (after 3 PM) to reduce the risk of sunburns.

Unfortunately, this is terrible advice.  The UVA rays that can cause skin cancer and deep-level skin damage are strong all the time.  The UVB rays that can cause sunburn – but also produce vitamin D in the skin – are strongest around mid-day.  Why would you expose your skin to rays that can’t produce much vitamin D, but can cause long-term damage?  That makes no sense.

Solar noon (1 PM daylight savings time) is the optimal time to get sun exposure.

By the way, you can’t wear sunscreen while you do this.  Sunscreens block almost all UVB rays.

Reduce Inflammation in the Body

This step doesn’t actually get you more vitamin D directly…but it does support your liver so that it can effectively absorb and convert the vitamin D you receive so your body can actually use it.  That’s just as important as getting the vitamin itself!

Reduce inflammation in the body by taking cinnamon, ginger, cayenne (in food or as supplements — try this Anti-Inflammatory Herbal Extract), as well as avoiding sugar, white flour, and vegetable oil (pro-inflammatory foods).

Support Your Liver

Same deal as above – a healthy liver is required to make the conversion so your body can actually use vitamin D!

Support liver health with milk thistle, dandelion root, and peppermint.  You can also try castor packs over your liver, and be sure to get daily light exercise and drink plenty of water.

16 Signs of Liver Congestion (and How to Fix them)

Get Magnesium

Magnesium is required for vitamin D to be used effectively in the body.  Supplement magnesium topically, with Epsom salts in a bath, or use magnesium lotion.  (Buy it here.)

Vitamin D Supplements

Until we solve the issue of understanding optimal levels and the impact that high-dose supplementing can have, it’s best to stick to natural sources, like cod liver oil (a great source of D3) or even lotions made with CLO like Earthley’s Vitamin D Cream.  Synthetics are definitely a bad idea. Read our blog, Everything You Need To Know About Cod Liver Oil, if you want to learn more about CLO. For those who prefer vegan options, there are some derived from lichen such as this one.

Eat Adequate Fat

Vitamin D requires fat to be absorbed, because it is a fat-soluble vitamin.  If you are not consuming enough dietary fat, you will not reap the benefits!  This is why most food sources are oily.  It is best absorbed if combined with omega-3 fatty acids (again, why it’s found primarily in fish or foods that also contain omega-3s!).  It is important to continue to eat occasional fish or other omega-3 sources even if you are getting it from the sun, for this reason.

Interestingly, these same fats can protect your skin from the sun so that you do not burn.  Burning happens, in part, due to free radicals and inflammation becoming oxidized when exposed to sunlight.  If you reduce your inflammation and improve your overall health, you will be less likely to burn – and you’ll make vitamin D in your skin more easily.

The Bottom Line: Get Some Sun!

Vitamin D, like most other vitamins and minerals, is complex.  It needs to be in balance in your body, and testing out exactly how much you need is difficult.  Trust the nature and the sun, and support your body’s normal systems so that it can optimize itself!

Additional Reading

What do you do about vitamin D — do you get sun or supplement?

This is the writings of:



  1. Great article, thanks for posting. Did your research cover sun exposure and skin cancer specifically? Or are you saying that enough vitamin d and fat should reduce all cancers? Thanks for any clarification!


  2. Amanda,

    Yes, enough fat and vit D should reduce the risk of ALL cancers, according to my research. There are notes on a couple different cancers here, skin and breast I think. But on the same site there's lots more studies about other types of cancer too.


  3. I'm glad you mentioned you only shower 1-2 times a week. I usually take a shower 2x a week (unless I get particularly sweaty/dirty) and people have made me feel like I'm gross. Most of my friends shower every day and can't imagine taking fewer showers.
    I've always figured it's better for our hair/skin to not shower so much and I love hearing I was on the right track. Thanks for the post!


  4. How can you only shower only once or twice a week? Don't you feel dirty or experience a body odor when not cleaning yourself frequently? Just curious since I've tried to go without a shower but start to smell.


  5. Tanya,

    It took awhile to kind of "cut down" before I could manage. In high school when I showered every weekday, by Sunday it was awful! lol. Changing diet has something to do with it, too. I also started to use less soap when I do shower, just on parts likely to get dirty most of the time. I've never really been able to use deodorant (at least not commercial) — sensitive to it — that might have something to do with it too. Gradually cut back, drink more water, eat whole foods, switch to natural body products (if you haven't already) and over time it should be easier.


  6. I found out the hard way that I need 8000 IU per day just to stay "normal". I was probably low for many years before finding this out less than 2 years ago. After being diagnosed with cancer in January, I'm now wondering if this lack of Vitamin D contributed. I'll never know definitively, but am keeping my dosage high and making sure my children get plenty as well (through gelcaps for the 3, 4, 6, and 10 YO) and Green Pastures fermented cod-liver oil for the baby who will actually take it.


  7. Thank you for bringing attention to this important topic! It is essential but not often emphasized.
    I am curious, can you tell me where you learned about the idea of showering affecting D synthesis? I have a good understanding of vitamin D synthesis, but I am very unfamiliar with the idea that it's synthesis is inhibited by washing off of skin oils. It is synthesized in the lowermost parts of the epidermis, so how this is directly affected by oils is puzzling. Maybe you can direct me to where I can read more about it.
    Thanks 🙂


  8. Thanks for this information! My 2 month old son’s pediatrician gave me a prescription for vitamin D drops I thought it was odd and thought to myself I need to search about Vitamin D on MAM blog. This was so helpful!


  9. Great timing! Just found out I’m Vitamin D deficient after my annual physical last week. They suggested buying a supplement to increase my levels and will recheck in 3 months. I forgot about cod liver oil, I think it’s time I bite the bullet and order some for myself. I’m still nursing my 14 month old so I’m sure I could use the extra fat and vitamins in it.


  10. I read this: “It is beyond ironic that for quite some time now, everyone has been encouraged by the “authorities” to avoid the sun in order to keep from getting cancer, yet it is that very sun exposure that would help in avoiding cancer in the first place! “Avoid midday sun, or you`ll get melanoma!” we`re told. But melanoma is mostly triggered by UVA rays from the sun – not UVB. When is cancer-causing UVA exposure the lowest? Right around midday. When is UVB exposure the highest? Also right around midday. A high UVB:UVA ratio (high UVB and low UVA) is the best for creating vitamin D in the body, and this occurs when the sun is highest in the sky – exactly the time (ironically) that is often suggested to be avoided.” (http://www.naturalnews.com/027345_Vitamin_D_exposure_sun.html) Have you studied that at all (the need to be out in the middle of the day especially)?


  11. Hi MAM!
    Great post! but here is a few questions… FCLO claim that they do not know how much vita D is in it… which is y my doc wants me to use supplements as well. I have a vita D3 supplement that I use for me and the kids. We are NEVER out in the winter so how much should the kids and I be shooting for and to get that amount is it safe to take that much vita A in FCLO??? Also y do they call the supplement vita D3 if its made of D2?


  12. I’ve cut back on the showers out of necessity with the little ones running around, nice to know there might be some benefit to it! Very interesting information. I have been taking a supplement for the last maybe 9 months and this has been by far my best pregnancy – #6, currently at 34 weeks, as far as energy levels and I had zero morning sickness and have wondered if the Vit D helped with that!


  13. […] get sick in the winter.  First and most important is that people tend to be very deficient in vitamin D.  Without vitamin D, our immune systems don’t work properly (neither do a lot of other […]


  14. […] your vitamin D levels for a healthier pregnancy as well as to avoid illness.   Cod liver oil will help with this, […]


  15. […] sun is so important to health.  The sun produces vitamin D in your skin, and vitamin D has myriad health benefits — and probably more they haven’t […]


  16. […] (A side benefit of this is the increased ability of absorb vitamin D through oils on the skin!) […]


  17. […] most all PCOS patients show up with vitamin D deficiency.  So, get some vitamin d daily—the best is through 10 minutes of unprotected sun […]


  18. […] the supplemental form is not the same and not as useful in our bodies. Sun exposure creates Vitamind D sulfate, which is better absorbed and has more functions in the body.  It is produced in the […]


  19. […] and wander around the front yard or fold a basket of laundry. If you go outside, the sun (and the vitamin D it provides) may make you feel better […]


  20. […] A lot of this probably flies in the face of everything you’ve been taught. No sunscreen? Exposure at noon? Yet the science shows this is the most effective way to get sun and vitamin D! […]


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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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