[Review] What’s Up With Vitamin D? The Ultimate Vitamin D Buyer’s Guide — 24 Top Products Uncapped
Trapped inside an urban, office prison — aka living hell — all day, every day? You’re likely lacking one of the body’s most uber-important micronutrients: vitamin D. Data suggests that ~ 75% of Americans are V-D deficient; and we’re not anywhere close to getting enough of it.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that’s primarily responsible for calcium absorption and healthy bone density, which helps build iron-clad teeth and bones. It also helps maintain healthy skin and supports nerve, muscle, and immune function.
Without it, the body can’t use dietary calcium and instead siphons it directly from the skeleton. Translation — the body turns into a feeble, skeletal Jenga tower.
Chronic deficiency leads to a number of destructive skeletal conditions, including: osteomalacia, or the softening of bones, which often results in massive pain; bone deformation and rickets in children; and fragile, porous, demineralized bones — or osteoporosis — in adults. Low levels are also linked with everything from different types of GI cancer, to heart disease, diabetes, depression, and asthma.
And if you’re an athlete, lifter, or anyone that’s looking to sculpt a stellar physique, vitamin D is massively important for that, too. Deficiency can provoke muscle weakness and balance issues, whereas higher doses may help reduce body fat and boost muscular performance.
Clearly it’s just a little bit important. Fortunately, plowing through your vitamin D requirement is often totally free, effortless, and completely au naturel. It might just come from a source that you never expected.
What’s Up With Vitamin D & Where Does It Come From?
Image: Sister Disco
What makes vitamin D distinct, a little bit magical, and spectacularly interesting is that the body’s primary source isn’t food, or even anything that waterfalls down your esophagus. It’s the sun.
Exposure to sunlight, specifically UV-B rays, triggers the production of vitamin D3 (aka cholecalciferol) in the skin and starts the synthesis process. That D3 is later converted into bioactive, usable forms (calcidiol and calciferol) in the liver and kidney for use in the body. Vitamin D2, or ergocalciferol, is plant/fungus-based (think mushrooms) and much less common.
Depending on a number of lifestyle factors, the sun is able to fuel a whopping 80-100% of your overall requirement. Under optimal conditions, 15 minutes of sun, 3x per week, can typically max out your vitamin D storehouses; with the ability to generate up to 10,000 IU in 15 to 20 minutes (for context, we need a minimum of 600 IU per day).
Key word: optimal. Most people don’t get ANYWHERE near that much, as a number of lifestyle factors often compound to completely block most of the skin’s vitamin D production.
- Sunscreen — SPF 8+ blocks 95% of UV-B radiation.
- Seasonality + Location — the further north/south you live, the less D3 you’ll produce naturally. During the winter months, sunlight in latitudes above 37ºN and below 37ºS won’t produce any D3 in the skin. That’s roughly north of Washington DC or Athens, Greece.
- Age — as you age, the skin is less able to absorb vitamin D. A 70-year-old produces ~ 4x less vitamin D in the skin than a 20-year-old.
- Skin Tone — darker skin pigments can reduce D3 production almost entirely (up to 99.9%).
- Fat Malabsorption Disorders — anyone with Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, and other gut issues are at increased risk for vitamin D deficiency.
- Clothing — more coverage = less sun exposure.
- Obesity — higher body fat alters the body’s ability to produce vitamin D. Larger, more obese people need more V-D on a daily basis.
But lets say you’re a covered up 45-year-old, living in New York City, trapped inside for 16 hours/day — vitamin D is available in a few food sources, but it’s rather elusive. Think oysters, oily fish, dairy, and mushrooms.
Oysters, salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, cod liver oil (yuck), and mushrooms are all naturally jacked up with vitamin D; and in the US, milk, orange juice, cereal, cheese and yogurt are fortified with up to 150 IU/serving to boost intake. For natural sources, quality reigns supreme — researchers found that wild-caught salmon packed 4-5x the vitamin D content of its farmed brethren.
Your gameplan: Strip out the guesswork and take a daily supplement to load up on D. At under $.03 per serving it’s dirt cheap and one of the most inexpensive health-investments you can possibly make. We’ve uncapped the top 24 products to pull out the keepers.
The Top 24 Vitamin D Supplements
Unless you live in the southern US, Africa, Australia, or by the equator — or you have an insatiable infatuation with oysters — there’s a very high chance that your vitamin D levels are chronically depressed. It’s a smart idea to regularly supplement with vitamin D3 to guarantee that you’re always getting more than enough.
Technically, adults need a minimum of 600 IU/day up until age 70 (and 800 IU/day thereafter), but 2000 IU/day is a much better bet for all-around health and performance, with numbers over 5000 IU proving to be safe. A few big things:
- Always buy a supplement with vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), not vitamin D2 — it’s the same price, more potent, more stable for long-term use, and much more widely tested in studies.
- Take it with a meal — it increases absorption by over 50%.
- Take a supplement with 1000 or 2000 IU of vitamin D3 per serving. A ton of brands come in 5000+ IU servings, which is unnecessarily high.
We’ve scrubbed the vitamin D landscape, uncapped the top 24 products, and pulled out the best value plays. We personally like and recommend any of these three brands, or pick any of the 5-star products from our grid below. They’re all clean and accurately labeled according to Consumer Lab testing.
ELLO ELLO I'm Bryan DiSanto.
I'm the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Lean It UP
, a CPT/CSN/Fitness Coach, Chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu – Paris, NYU graduate, ex-fat kid
, and all-around fitness junkie.
I also contribute to Men's Health Magazine
When I'm not working on my abs (or somebody else’s), whipping up avocado roses
and avocado toast, or running a Tough Mudder, I'm probably yelling at a Carolina Panthers game somewhere.
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