Vitamin D

by Mark Whalen


According to the National Center for health statistics 33% of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D, and the number could be as high as 50%.

Vitamin D has always been known for its role in bone health.  It helps with the absorption of calcium and phosphorous from the Gastrointestinal tract, which aids in maintaining strong and healthy bones.

Current research shows that Vitamin D has many more applications and may be a key vitamin for our overall health.  Research into Vitamin D is showing it to behave more like a hormone than a vitamin.

Read on to learn more about how we get Vitamin D and what role it plays in our health.


Functions of Vitamin D

Current research into Vitamin D is showing it to have a role in the treatment and  prevention of colon, prostate, and breast cancers, as well as a potential treatment for type 1 and type 2 diabetes. 1,2

There is also evidence to support Vitamin D’s role in the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis (and other autoimmune disorders) due to its anti-inflammatory action.  Vitamin D deficiency is also considered as a cause of chronic muscle pain and weakness3.

There is some evidence to suggest that low vitamin D levels may be linked to depression.  In a study conducted at the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center, it was found that: “ low vitamin D levels are associated with depressive symptoms, especially in persons with a history of depression.”

While there is no direct cause-effect link yet established, there is further research being conducted into Vitamin D as a possible treatment for depression.


How do we get Vitamin D?

Cholesterol is the necessary precursor to Vitamin D.  Vitamin D is synthesized through exposure to sunlight (UV B rays specifically).  As sunlight in this spectrum hits our skin, a form of cholesterol is converted into Vitamin D3.5

The amount of vitamin D we can synthesize through our skin is affected by our skin color (darker skin means less synthesis) and our age.  It is more difficult to synthesize Vitamin D as we age.

The amount of vitamin D we can obtain from sunlight is affected by many factors.  It depends on the time of day, the cloud cover, how much clothing/sunscreen we are wearing and even on the ozone cover in your area6.  As you can imagine it is difficult to get enough sunlight to meet all or our needs.

We can obtain some vitamin D through our diets.  Since cholesterol is the precursor to Vitamin D3, many of the foods high in vitamin D are also high in cholesterol.

Food sources of Vitamin D include cod liver oil, fatty fish (salmon, tuna), eggs (yolks), and dairy products (butter).  Many cereals are now fortified with Vitamin D, which means the Vitamin D is added into the product7.


Limiting Diets

Certain diets may limit the amount of Vitamin D we can obtain through our diet.  Those who are lactose intolerant, ovo-vegetarians or vegans may have difficulty getting enough Vitamin D through their diet.  Patients with nutrient absorption difficulties (ie: celiac patients) may have difficulty obtaining Vitamin D through their diet.  Obesity is also a factor as excess fat cells store more of the vitamin and alter how much is released into the blood stream8.

A diet low in cholesterol may limit the amount of Vitamin D we’re able to obtain via food.  We’ve been told for so long to avoid cholesterol in our foods, that many people avoid the best food options for Vitamin D because of their fear of cholesterol.


It’s almost impossible to get enough Vitamin D through diet alone.  Because we live in the northeast, and especially during winter, we struggle to get enough sunlight to synthesize Vitamin D.  This leaves supplementation as our best solution.

When looking for a Vitamin D supplement, look for Vitamin D3 –Cholecalciferol- this is the form of Vitamin D produced from sunlight.  Check labels as well to see if any additional vitamins have been added to the supplement.  For instance, patients on blood thinners need to be cautious about supplements with Vitamin K, as this could lead to bleeding issues.

If you have questions or concerns, as always, check with your health care provider.




  1. Hyppönen E, Läärä E, Reunanen A, Järvelin MR, Virtanen SM. Intake of vitamin D and risk of type 1 diabetes: a birth-cohort study. Lancet 2001;358:1500-3. [PubMed abstract]
  2. Pittas AG, Dawson-Hughes B, Li T, Van Dam RM, Willett WC, Manson JE, et al. Vitamin D and calcium intake in relation to type 2 diabetes in women. Diabetes Care 2006;29:650-6. [PubMed abstract]     
  3.  Vitamin D — Builds Bones and Much More.  July 14 2008.
  4. Mayo Clin Proc. 2011 Nov;86(11):1050-5.Association between low serum 25-hydroxyvitamin d and depression in a large sample of healthy adults: the cooper center longitudinal study. Hoang MT, Defina LF, Willis BL, Leonard DS, Weiner MF, Brown ES. Department of Psychiatry, UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, 5323 Harry Hines Blvd, MC 8849, Dallas, TX
  6. ibid.
  8. ibid

Mark Whalen is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Board Certified Herbalist and the founder of Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness in Reading, MA.

Mark Whalen – who has written posts on Acupuncture Reading MA - Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness.


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