There are a lot of vitamins that have gone viral in the internet and are selling like hot potatoes in the market. But one very essential vitamin that caught the attention of many is the Vitamin D3. You might think that this is another common vitamin in the block but there is more to what you know about this vitamin. Many dub it as “wonder vitamin”. It has a good deal of health benefits that can get us hooked. Until today, doctors are learning more and more about its role in good health and the prevention of diseases. Let’s talk more about it.

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a unique type of vitamin because it actually acts more like a steroid hormone than a dietary aid and is not readily available in most foods like other vitamins often are; because of this, it’s estimated that nearly 75 percent of people have some kind of deficiency (1). Vitamin D is sourced primarily from the sun, which is why it’s often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” where the skin absorbs sunlight and synthesizes the UVB rays into Vitamin D (2). Generally, Vitamin D is one of many nutrients our bodies need to stay healthy. It basically helps the body to absorb calcium, build bones and keep bones strong and healthy along with calcium and blocks the release of parathyroid hormone – hormone reabsorbs bone tissue, which makes bones thin and brittle (3). Vitamin D may also play a role in muscle function and the immune system that helps protect it against infections and other illnesses. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to abnormalities in bone metabolism, such as rickets in children or osteomalacia in adults while excess intake of Vitamin D can also be harmful, elevating calcium levels in the blood (hypercalcemia) (4). Vitamin D is a food additive added to food as an optional ingredient. Vitamin D is more than just one vitamin but a family of nutrients that shares similarities in chemical structure – vitamins D2 and D3 (5). Research reveals that Vitamin D3 is more effective at raising blood levels of Vitamin D.

What is Vitamin D3?

Vitamin D3 is the form of Vitamin D called cholecalciferol. Cholecalciferol is the most widely known of the Vitamin D series which is a fat soluble vitamin that is stored to some degree in the body (6). It is used as a dietary supplement, for the treatment of Vitamin D deficiency, or to prevent a deficiency. While Vitamin D2 is manufactured from plants and fungi, Vitamin D3 is created from animal products (7).

Top five benefits of Vitamin D3:

  1. Sugar Control – Cholecalciferol helps improve blood glucose control and cholesterol profile in Vitamin D3-deficient type 2 diabetic patients (8). A glucose tolerance tests is performed and suggests that Vitamin D in the brain could improve glucose tolerance (9). Using Long-Evans rates, obesity was induced, and through a catheter in the jugular vein and carotid artery, insulin and glucose were painlessly delivered, and blood withdrawn. Next, a glucose clamp was utilized to maintain blood glucose at a steady rate. According to Dr. Sisley, Assistant Professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Vitamin D3 treatment in the brain, the animals needed more glucose. This means that the insulin was working better in these animals, and is considered an improvement in insulin sensitivity. In one study, 72% of participants with type 2 diabetes were deficient in Vitamin D at the start of the study and after two months of taking a 4,500-IU supplement of Vitamin D daily, both fasting blood sugar and A1C improved (10). In addition, it improves the function of pancreatic cells that make insulin and increases your body’s responsiveness to insulin (11).
  2. Cancer Prevention – Studies of cancer cells and of tumors in mice reveal that Vitamin D shows several activities that might slow or prevent the development of cancer, including promoting cellular differentiation, decreasing cancer cell growth, stimulating cell death (apoptosis), and reducing tumor blood vessel formation (angiogenesis) (12). Most human data related to cancer cases that are available include colorectal, breast, prostate, and pancreatic cancer. Numerous epidemiologic studies show that higher intake or blood levels of Vitamin D are associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer (13). One study reveals that Vitamin D inhibits both cancer cell growth and invasiveness (14). The strongest and most consistent evidence for Vitamin D’s protective effects is seen in patients with colorectal and breast cancers (15). Some epidemiologic studies suggest that Vitamin D levels of approximately 30 ng/mL may protect against breast cancer, whereas meta-analyses conclude at least 50 ng/mL is required to decrease the risk by 50% and meta-analyses find a 50% decreased incidence of colorectal cancer with serum Vitamin D levels ≥ 33 ng/mL (16).
  3. Heart Health – A new study recently presented at the American College of Cardiology 65th Annual Scientific Session & Expo in Chicago, IL concludes that for patients with chronic heart failure, daily supplementation with Vitamin D3 may improve heart function (17). Another study involving 229 participants who were randomized to receive either a daily high-dose Vitamin D supplement for a year or a placebo, shows that people in the Vitamin D group showed encouraging improvements in measures of left ventricular function, a gauge of how well blood is pumped from the heart with each heartbeat (18).  A study finding reveals a strong association between Vitamin D deficiency and slow coronary flow, endothelial dysfunction and subclinical atherosclerosis, in patients with normal or near-normal coronary arteries at coronary angiography (19). According to a team at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, having a Vitamin D level anywhere above 15 nanograms per milliliter is fine for heart health (20).
  4. Bone Health – Vitamin D is necessary for strong bones and muscles. It is essential for the development and maintenance of bone, both for its role in assisting calcium absorption from food in the intestine, and for ensuring the correct renewal and mineralization of bone tissue (21). Without it, our bodies cannot effectively absorb calcium, which is essential to good bone health. Children who lack Vitamin D develop the condition called rickets, which causes bone weakness, bowed legs, and other skeletal deformities, such as stooped posture (22). In addition, Vitamin D is also beneficial to older adults to improve bone health and possibly ward off the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis. Hence, it prevents rare conditions, such as rickets in children and osteomalacia (softening of bones) in adults. A researcher, Dr. Alison Avenell, points out that people at risk of Vitamin D deficiency include those with little or no sun exposure, such as nursing home residents who are indoors all the time, or those who always cover their skin when outside (23).
  5. Lower Blood Pressure – Vitamin D deficiency may be linked an increased risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) (24). Both the blood vessels and the heart have large numbers of Vitamin D receptors which means that Vitamin D is providing some function in regulating these issues. One study shows that administering Vitamin D to older adults with existing high blood pressure caused both the systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure to decrease. The same study also reveals that giving both Vitamin D and Calcium together caused even larger decreases in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure (25). These data suggest that Vitamin D and Calcium can somehow work together to cause a reduction in blood pressure and that high levels of calcium promote the blood pressure reducing action of Vitamin D (26). However, Elina Hypponen, a professor from the University of South Australia, points out in a journal published that further research is needed to confirm that low levels of Vitamin D can cause high blood pressure and that taking Vitamin D supplements can reduce that risk (27).

Final Thoughts

Surely, Vitamin D3 deserve to take its rightful place in the pool of vitamins proven to have wonderful benefits. However, just like any other vitamins, it is important to be cautious in taking in this Vitamin D. It is safer to get this vitamin through the food we eat. Yet, supplementation may be necessary for Vitamin D3 deficient individuals. It is still advised to consult the doctor first before taking the supplement to get the proper dosage and choose the right supplement for you.