The interesting thing about vitamin D is that, as much as we talk about it (literally every time we venture out into the sun), a handful of recent studies suggest we’re not getting enough of it. One even called it an “epidemic.” Another surprising fact: When questioned about what vitamin D actually does for our bodies, those quickest to claim its benefits to justify their sunbathing come up short with what those benefits actually are.
Thankfully, in recent years, vitamin D has gained the popularity it deserves as one of our body’s most vital requirements and responsible for a wide variety of essential functions. And while it’s equally important for both men and women, we focused on vitamin D benefits for men to ensure that guys know exactly what they need and how to get it. We talked to general medical practitioner and author Holly Phillips, MD, and registered dietitian Mia Syn, MS, RDN, for the full story on vitamin D.
What Does Vitamin D Do?
- Bone Health: One of the most common vitamin D benefits for men, this key nutrient helps facilitate calcium absorption in the gut to ensure crucial calcium and phosphate concentrations for bone mineralization, while promoting bone growth and remodeling. Without sufficient vitamin D, bones can become thin, brittle, and malformed.
- Immune Function: Vitamin D has myriad benefits for the cells of our immune systems, from modulating the body’s immune response to having antimicrobial properties.
- Anti-Inflammation: The buzzword of the moment in both the skincare and bodycare realms, vitamin D plays a key role in suppressing the body’s inflammatory response, which studies suggest may affect a number of inflammatory diseases.
In addition to these key vitamin D benefits for men, Phillips mentions that vitamin D is a topic of high interest at the moment, with a variety of ongoing studies focused on its potential effects on mood and mental health, cancer prevention, and heart disease and stroke prevention.
Are We Getting Enough Vitamin D?
The majority of us are managing to get enough vitamin D on the daily, but just barely. In fact, Phillips quoted a study that showed almost 42% of American adults don’t get enough vitamin D, a situation many doctors are calling an epidemic.
Topping the list of causes is not enough exposure to sunlight, but if you know anything about skincare, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. “In recent years, we’ve all become more aware of the importance of protecting our skin from the sun’s rays to limit risks of skin cancer and aesthetic aging effects on the skin, like wrinkles and sunspots,” Phillips explains. Thus, skipping out on the sun also means skipping out on valuable vitamin D time.
Other less common causes of vitamin D deficiency include age (the older we get, the less efficiently our skin produces vitamin D), digestive conditions like Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and gastric bypass surgery, all of which can limit the body’s absorption. Obesity is also a factor, as a body mass index of 30 or higher can lead to increased risk of low vitamin D levels.
Signs of vitamin D deficiency in adults can vary, Syn explains, ranging from weak bones to muscle weakness, pain, fatigue, and depression. If you think you might be suffering from a vitamin D deficiency, it’s best to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis before heading to the drugstore for a supplement.
What’s the Best Way to Take Vitamin D?
Thankfully, there are many different ways to make sure you get your daily recommended dose of vitamin D. Three of the most common include:
According to Phillips, the most natural and effective way to increase vitamin D levels is to treat yourself to some good, old-fashioned sunshine, hence its nickname “the sunshine vitamin.” But she is quick to acknowledge the various opinions on how much sun exposure is necessary for your body to synthesize enough vitamin D. “Most experts seem to agree that between 10 and 15 minutes a day of exposure to full sun (between 10 am and 3 pm) should be adequate,” she says. This option is somewhat of a double-edged sword, however, as the UV-B rays that prompt the skin to synthesize vitamin D are also responsible for sunburn and various types of skin cancer. Phillips also points out that the closer you are to the equator, the higher UV-B levels get. “Unprotected sun exposure inarguably increases the risk of skin cancer, so a prescription of sunlight may not be right for everyone,” she says.
If you want to opt for a more natural route in getting enough vitamin D, but sunlight is an absolute no, your next best bet would be to eat a diet that's rich in D. However, Syn says that comes with its own set of challenges: “Vitamin D is a nutrient that's thought to be insufficiently present in Western diets because it is found naturally in only a handful of foods less commonly consumed, like mackerel and trout, although fortified in foods like some milks, milk alternatives, orange juices, and cereals.” Phillips agrees, explaining that diet alone cannot provide enough of the nutrient required on a daily basis, and instead recommends that those who are sun-averse should opt for supplements.
Those who go the supplement route will find themselves spoiled for choice, as vitamin D now comes in many forms, including capsules, gummies, pills, even oral sprays. But the key to successful supplementing has less to do with the form and everything to do with making sure you take it with foods that will boost its absorption. “Whatever vitamin D supplement you choose, it’s important to take it with a meal to enhance absorption,” Phillips explained. “Vitamin D is one of the four fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), which means they don’t dissolve in water and are best absorbed when paired with foods that contain fat.” To ensure your vitamin D gets to where it’s needed, she recommends incorporating foods like nuts, seeds, dairy products, and avocados into your diet when taking your daily supplement.
How Much Vitamin D Do I Need?
“The recommended dietary allowance for healthy adults is 600 IU per day,” Syn told us. However, depending on factors like age, diet, local climate, and how much time you spend outdoors (presumably wearing SPF), your recommended amount may slightly differ. Taking too much vitamin D can raise blood calcium levels, which can lead to severe if not fatal side effects. So Phillips recommends first consulting with your doctor to discuss which supplements and how high a dosage are right for you.
US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults.
US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Vitamin D and the Immune System.
US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Vitamin D and Inflammatory Diseases.