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Vitamin D Supplements: What's the clinical evidence?

As the days get colder and darker, many people are turning to Vitamin D supplements to help fend off the winter blues. But, what does clinical research say about vitamin D? Are supplements necessary, and if so, how do you know the best ones to take?

What does Vitamin D do?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that promotes calcium absorption in the gut. Vitamin D is present in many foods and is added to others such as milk and certain dry goods, denoted with “enriched” descriptions. It is also of course absorbed through the skin during UV exposure.

Vitamin D is important in maintaining strong bones, as well as helping to prevent tetany (the involuntary contraction of muscles, leading to muscle spasms or cramping with use.)

The vitamin also serves to regulate immune system functioning and modulates many other processes in the body, such as cell growth and glucose metabolism.

Does it help with S.A.D?

People tend to cite Vitamin D supplements as a remedy for people with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or for anyone who struggles with low mood in the winter months. Indeed, several studies have demonstrated light therapy has beneficial impacts on those with SAD.

Low levels of Vitamin D have also been found in people with SAD, but it seems as though more research is needed to justify the use of supplementation in SAD treatment.

A more effective treatment is to speak with your doctor about beginning cognitive behavioral therapy, or antidepressants if SAD becomes too intense to function properly. If your symptoms are less severe, however, it may be worth experimenting with the lowest recommended doses of Vitamin D supplements -- or, attempting to bolster the vitamin in your regular diet choices.

The Bottom Line

Most people in the United States consume less than the necessary amount of Vitamin D. Given its vitality to so many of our bodily processes, it’s a good idea to start boosting your intake in the colder months as you spend less time in the sun.

Your diet can be a great place to start: work in plenty of cheese, egg yolks, fatty fishes such as tuna or salmon, and fortified foods such as fortified orange juice.

If you do begin a vitamin D supplement, around 10 micrograms a day is all you need. Do not exceed more than 100 micrograms a day, as this can be harmful. Always consult your doctor before beginning any new supplements, and ensure you’re not on any medications that will interact with the vitamin influx.

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