To supplement vitamin D in a completely safe and effective way, you will need to go through this process:
- Understand what is meant by a healthy vitamin D level, and what is the benefit to you of maintaining this level.
- Find out your current vitamin D status by taking a blood test. Or if you cannot manage that, then we can help you to estimate your vitamin D level
- If you plan to get some of your vitamin D from sunlight (recommended if you have access) see Safe Sun Practices to Maximise Vitamin D.
- Find your correct vitamin D supplement dosage.
- Understand about vitamin D overdose and vitamin D toxicity.
- Read this page and take any precautions that apply to you.
- Purchase your vitamin D (Buy vitamin D3).
Then you will be fully prepared to experience your own health boost from safe and effective vitamin D supplementation!
As you can see, this is not a five minute read, so if you are in a hurry right now, best bookmark this page and come back to it when you have more time. Just remember, the benefits of optimum vitamin D levels are awesome, extravagant, mind-boggling and life-changing!
So let’s move on to consider some practical aspects of vitamin D supplementation.
When to take vitamin D3 supplements
If taking pills every day is difficult, you can take your vitamin D3 weekly instead of daily. Just add up your daily doses for 7 days to arrive at a weekly vitamin D3 dose.
Daily is probably kinder to your body, and closer to the natural way, but much better to take it weekly than not at all!
Absorption is best if you take your vitamin D supplement with the main meal of the day.
Side effects of vitamin D supplements
The maximum daily vitamin D3 dose suggested on this website amounts to far less than a fair-skinned person would make if they spent 15 minutes on a sunny beach! But I do believe in listening to one’s body.
So if at any stage you feel that your vitamin D supplement is causing any side effects or making you ill in any way, stop taking it while you and your doctor find out what is causing the problem. Maybe your body needs time to adjust. If so, then start with a low dose, say 500 IU to 1000 IU daily. Each week increase the daily dose by 500 IU until you reach your target dose.
Rarely, some people find that a particular vitamin D3 formulation does not agree with them. This could be due to other components in the capsule or tablet besides the vitamin D3. So it could be worth trying a different brand.
Consult with your doctor…
If you are not in good health, or are already under a doctor’s care for treatment of some condition, I urge you to see your doctor to discuss your intention to supplement vitamin D. Why?
- There are a few rare, serious medical conditions for which vitamin D supplementation is inadvisable.
- Some people may need to adjust doses of medication they may already be taking.
- Some prescription medications affect the amount of vitamin D you need to supplement.
There are some conditions which render a person hypersensitive to vitamin D (for example, primary hyperparathyroidism, sarcoidosis, granulomatous diseases, and some cancers).
Such people would be under their doctor’s care, and should only take vitamin D if it is prescribed for them. But do raise the subject with your doctor. Some cancer patients, for example, can benefit greatly by having their vitamin D levels optimized.
If your doctor wants to prescribe vitamin D for you, ask her to recommend vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), not vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol).
Vitamin D2 is not as effective as D3 at raising 25(OH)D blood levels. But more significantly, when vitamin D2 is used to raise blood levels, the increase is short-lived – a few days instead of a few weeks for vitamin D3.
Vitamin D3 is what your own skin makes from sunshine. It is the natural, human form of vitamin D, so it’s the best kind to take.
Make sure you get enough calcium & magnesium…
Vitamin D is part of a complex nutritional system. When you supplement vitamin D, especially at higher doses, you need to pay attention to several other nutritional elements in the system.
When supplementing vitamin D, it is important to make sure you are also getting enough calcium and magnesium. Also zinc, boron and vitamin K2. These nutrients work together with vitamin D. Without them, vitamin D will not be effective.
How do you obtain these nutrients? Best way is to eat a healthy diet, rich in organic plant foods (vegetables, some fruit, whole-grain seeds, and nuts.)
Not everyone can manage this, so do the best you can and supplement for the rest. A good bone mineral supplement is probably easiest. It should provide all of these minerals daily (for an adult):
The quantities are for the elemental minerals. You can’t eat elemental minerals. Supplement manufacturers include each mineral as a compound (e.g. a salt or chelate) which your body can absorb or use. This affects the quantity.
So for example, if you wanted to get 400 mg of elemental magnesium, and your supplement supplies magnesium as the chloride, you will need to take 3300 mg of magnesium chloride, because that much magnesium chloride yields 400 mg of elemental magnesium.
Most good supplements will say on the label how much of each nutrient you are taking, and how much of the elemental mineral you will be getting.
How Vitamin D affects calcium and magnesium
Your calcium requirement drops as your vitamin D levels rise. (With more vitamin D in your body, calcium is better absorbed, so you need to eat less of it.)
When you are vitamin D deficient you may need to supplement as much as 1000 mg of calcium per day (depending on your diet) but most of this calcium won’t be absorbed.
After every two weeks of vitamin D supplementation as recommended here, reduce your calcium dosage by 100 mg.
When your vitamin D level reaches optimum, take only 500 mg of supplemental calcium (or less, depending on your diet).
Although you will be reducing your calcium intake, as your vitamin D levels improve your body will absorb more calcium. To balance this increase in calcium, and to assist the body to use it correctly, you should increase your magnesium intake to 400 – 500 mg for an average adult.
Magnesium is important for hundreds of bodily processes. One of them is to help prevent calcium from being deposited in the wrong places (such as your heart, arteries and kidneys). It also helps to strengthen bone.
One last point about magnesium – it acts as a laxative at higher doses, so split your daily magnesium into two half-doses (with breakfast and supper) and you’ll be fine.
Vitamin D and Vitamin A
Vitamin D requires a small amount of vitamin A (retinol) in order to work correctly. But vitamin A and vitamin D attach themselves to the same cell receptors. If you have too much vitamin A, it grabs those cell receptors and leaves no room for vitamin D.
So even though you might have enough vitamin D, it can’t work properly if you also have too much vitamin A (retinol).
The precise amount of retinol that inhibits vitamin D is not yet known. I prefer to supplement less than 2000 IU of retinol daily, and make up for it with extra beta-carotene.
Beta-carotene is a vitamin A precursor found in some green, yellow and orange vegetables. You can take as much beta-carotene as you please if you obtain it from vegetables.
If you don’t eat enough vegetables, take a beta-carotene supplement, about 5000 IU (3 mg) daily. (You could find this in a good multivitamin).
Your body will get all the vitamin A it needs by converting beta-carotene to retinol. This process is regulated, so your body will never create more retinol than it requires, and not enough to get in the way of vitamin D.
Check your vitamin D blood level
Although all healthy people should maintain optimum vitamin D blood levels, the amount of vitamin D3 needed to accomplish this can vary quite considerably from one person to another.
That is the main reason why a blood test is advisable. It helps you to learn your own vitamin D status and your personal response to vitamin D3 supplementation. It is best to test before you start supplementing so you will know your base level.
Test again after three months of supplementation, or as suggested by your doctor, to make sure that you are maintaining optimum levels. If you are not in the optimum range after three months, adjust your dose.
Thereafter, test twice a year until you know what vitamin D blood level to expect. After that, an annual test should keep you on track.
If vitamin D testing is a problem for you, try at least to take that one test after three months of starting supplementation. That test will provide you with vital information and allow you to make adjustments to your vitamin D dosage if necessary.
Reviewing your vitamin D3 maintenance dose
Around each change of season, recalculate your vitamin D3 maintenance dose to take into account changes in your sunning habits.
Also recalculate your dose if your lifestyle changes significantly. For example, you take up gardening, or golf, or change to (or from) outdoor work.