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Vitamin D is different from other essential vitamins because our own bodies can manufacture it with sunlight exposure. The main function of vitamin D is to regulate the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in our bones and aid in cell to cell communication throughout the body. Frequent exposure of the skin to sunlight promotes sufficient vitamin D synthesis without the need for supplements, however, adults who have darker skin pigmentation or frequently wear sun protection during outdoor activities are often vitamin D deficient.
Five forms of vitamin D have been discovered, vitamin D1, D2, D3, D4, D5. The two forms that seem to matter to humans the most are vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamine D3 (cholecalciferol).
Both vitamins D2 and D3 are used in human nutritional supplements. Pharmaceutical forms include calcitriol (1alpha, 25-dihydroxycholecalciferol), doxercalciferol and calcipotriene. The majority of scientists state that D2 and D3 are equally effective in our bloodstream. However, new research is beginning to suggest that D3 is more effective.
Vitamin D is essential for the "formation, growth, and repair of bones and for normal calcium absorption and immune function" and there are studies to suggest that "higher levels of vitamin D in the blood are associated with reduced risks of colorectal cancer; however, the research results overall have been inconsistent."
Direct sunlight is a great source of vitamin D. However, be careful you do not overdo it. If you live in the tropics and can expose your unprotected skin to two sessions of 15 minutes of sunlight each week your body will naturally produce adequate amounts of vitamin D. The following factors may reduce your body's vitamin D synthesis:
If your body cannot produce enough vitamin D because of insufficient sunlight exposure you will need to obtain it from supplements and dietary sources. In the absence of sun exposure 1000 IU of cholecalciferol is required daily for both children and adults. People with dark skin pigmentation and the elderly are more likely to have vitamin D deficiencies.