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Vitamin D: Beyond Bone Health


This essential vitamin is proving to be beneficial for many aspects of health.

Vitamin D has known benefits for bone health, but it is also a nutrient that is now showing evidence to be useful for other aspects of health.

“Recently published studies report vitamin D’s involvement in other areas of health conditions including cardiovascular disease, cancer prevention, cognitive function and immunity,” said Jennifer Gu, PhD, vice president of R&D at AIDP, Inc. in California. “There is also an increased interest of vitamin D’s multi-functional roles in general health.Thus, the use for vitamin D has become more diversified beyond bone health products.” 

In addition to these benefits, vitamin D assists metabolic and cellular functions, such as aiding in the uptake of other micronutrients like calcium and phosphorous. It also acts as an antioxidant, is vital to the production of collagen, may help reduce or prevent inflammation by suppressing overactive immune cells and assists in optimizing thyroid output, said Jeremy Bartos, PhD, senior innovation scientist at California-based Glanbia Nutritionals. 

And Khrysty Griswold, sales and technical support at AnMar International Ltd. In Connecticut, added that vitamin D may also lower risk of multiple sclerosis, and is important for pregnant women to supplement their diets for fetal health. She noted that the recommended daily intake for both men and women over age 50 is 400 to 800 IU per day, with at least 600 IU per day recommended for people over 65. For greater efficacy, it is suggested that vitamin D be taken in combination with calcium to aid in absorption.

Vitamin D Deficiency 

Three-quarters of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, according to ScientificAmerican.com, even though the vitamin seems relatively easy to come by. It is available in fish oils, eggs, liver and dairy products, but is also produced naturally in the body during sun exposure. This deficiency is most likely increased in people avoiding the sun for fear of skin aging and skin cancer.

“Living in cold weather climates or deliberately limiting sun exposure to avoid skin damage can result in vitamin D deficiency,” said Bartos. “Current research has implicated vitamin D deficiency as a major factor in the pathology of at least 17 varieties of cancer as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting birth defects, periodontal disease and more.” 

Vitamin D deficiency is not only widespread, but the consequences can be far reaching. “Seemingly a week does not go by without a new clinical study linking low vitamin D to negative health outcomes,” said AIDP’s Gu. She said this, along with consumer awareness for the vitamin’s benefits, has spurred demand. But despite the vitamin’s popularity, the price still remains relatively low.

Delivery Methods 

The laundry list of health implications that comes with vitamin D deficiency has surged research in recent years as companies search for a way to make the vitamin more readily available. “Vitamin D has stability issues,” said Gu. “Since vitamin D is typically an oil, solubility and stability have been a challenge.”

As an oil, vitamin D is best absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract when taken with other foods, especially those high in oil and fat content, explained Gu.To that end, AIDP has formulated enVantec vitamin D, which offers stability and goes in clear to beverage formats. It is highly soluble and gelatin-free, making it a versatile form of the vitamin.

According to Griswold, AnMar is interested in how vitamin D works with and complements other nutraceutical products. The company does custom formulations and blending in its Connecticut manufacturing facility, and AnMar’s customers use vitamin D in oral applications, including soft gels, tablets, blends and beverages. Powder forms are best suited for use in blends and tablets. In addition, the company offers cold-water soluble vitamin D, which works best in beverage applications, Griswold said. “This information is useful in advising our customers when discussing custom blends.” 

Griswold has also seen an increase in 52 Nutrition Industry Executive requests from finished product manufacturers for different levels of vitamin D, ranging from 100,000 IU/g to 1 million IU/g.

According to Glanbia’s Bartos, vitamin D is fat soluble, meaning that any excess is stored in the body rather than excreted like water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins B and C. “Because of this there is the potential for ‘over medicating’ on vitamin D to the point of toxicity. However, this is extremely rare,” he said, noting the benefit of ingesting amounts of vitamin D greater than the current recommended daily value (RDI) of 400 IU/day far outweighs the potential detriments of overexposure. “In fact, key scientists have recently been more vocal in their push to get the current vitamin D RDI raised up to as high as 2,000 IU/day.” 

D2 vs D3 

Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is typically sourced from micro organisms, such as fungus or yeast, while vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) comes from animals, according to Bartos. This can pose a problem for the growing vegan and vegetarian population.

“Vitamin D3 has been derived from animals, such as sheep, which is not acceptable to certain groups,” said Gu.“With the advent of high quality and vitamin D2 products, and the new plant- derived vitamin D3 ingredients, we hope this will be an issue of the past.” 

AIDP is in the process of bringing a vegetarian vitamin D form to the market. Gu said there are promising studies following long-term use of D3 to help alleviate very serious and expensive chronic ailments. The cost for treatment is much lower and so it can be applied to patients, even in poorer countries, said Gu.

Meanwhile, AnMar is currently carrying a full line of vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 products in various strengths, ranging from 10,000 IU/g to 1 million IU/g, according to Griswold. She added the benefits of vitamin D2 versus D3 seem to be equivocal. NIE

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