Vitamin D: Things You Need to Know Before You Supplement

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Fall and cooler temps get a lot of people thinking about being proactive with boosting their immune system before the flu and cold bugs are in full swing - and this usually means supplementing with Vitamin D. 

Which makes sense because Vitamin D bolsters the immune system, aids cellular function, supports skeletal health, hormone health, and it’s well known and easy to get.  However, starting off supplementing with high doses of Vitamin D right out of the gates may not have the impact you’re hoping for. 

Vitamin D is not technically a vitamin, but a hormone and it works synergistically with magnesium, Vitamin A and Vitamin K.  Magnesium helps the body convert Vitamin D to its final, usable form so deficiency of magnesium highly impacts the effectiveness of Vitamin D.  Because nutrients in the body do not work alone, when a large amount of one nutrient is boosted, the body naturally uses up large amounts of the cofactor needed for absorption.  Prior to supplementing Vitamin D, it would make sense then to make sure magnesium in the body was optimal. 

Vitamin A plays a wide role in supporting functions in the body, but one that is often overlooked, but equally important is its role in immune system health.  Surprisingly, Vitamin A and Vitamin D bind to the same final cell receptor sites in the body meaning that increased uptake of one (high levels of supplemental Vitamin D, for example) can cause diminished levels of the other.  A physician can easily order Vitamin D and Vitamin A levels be checked via labs and you’ll want to aim for both levels to be in the upper half of the reference range.  If you need to increase your levels, foods such as organic, free-range eggs, beef and butter are excellent choices that seem to convert better than plant based options like carrots and squash. 

Vitamin K is another fat soluble nutrient working alongside Vitamin D, which controls healthy blood clotting and helps to keep calcium in our bones instead of infiltrating arterial walls.  Again, as one nutrient increases (high levels of supplemental Vitamin D, for example) the other can decrease so it’s important to keep both levels optimal. Dark leafy greens (especially broccoli, kale and swiss chard), natto (fermented soybeans, which may need to be avoided if you have a sensitivity or intolerance) and animal fat provide excellent sources of Vitamin K from food sources.  Unless you are tested severely deficient, I always recommend using food as your first go-to source of nutrients.   

As you further explore Vitamin D supplementation to boost your immune system, consider the following:

  • Make sure you have adequate magnesium levels prior to starting Vitamin D supplementation (as stated above). 

  • Start Vitamin D low and increase dosage slowly over time as to not overwhelm the Vitamin D receptor sites and kidneys (which are responsible for converting the unusable form to the usable form of the hormone)

  • Re-check levels every 3-6 months - if you see no improvement in levels, it's possible a bile acid support is needed or digestive enzyme is needed to help absorption (but there are other reasons why levels may consistently stay low over time as well)

  • High amounts of Vitamin D can make hot flashes noticeably worse!

  • Eat regular amounts of Vitamin A, which competes with Vitamin D at the cell receptor site - best forms are from organ meats, but egg yolks are great as well.  Most people do not convert beta-carotene from plant based sources well enough to hang your hat on carrots alone ;)

Here are a few options to look into if you’re considering supplementing: