Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that’s essential to your health. It’s commonly known as the “sunshine vitamin” because you can get it from sunlight.
In order to make vitamin D from sunlight, your body goes through a series of steps. The first step involves a type of cholesterol called 7-dehydrocholesterol. Since your body uses cholesterol to make vitamin D, many wonder if vitamin D can help lower cholesterol.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that’s naturally found in the body. It’s also found in certain foods like egg yolks, meat, and cheese.
Though having too much cholesterol in your blood can cause health problems, some cholesterol is necessary. That’s because, in addition to using it to make vitamin D, your body uses it to make hormones and cell membranes.
Types of cholesterol
Cholesterol is transported through the bloodstream on lipoproteins, which are made up of fat and protein. The 2 main types of lipoproteins are high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
HDL cholesterol, or cholesterol carried by HDLs, is known as “good” cholesterol. That’s because HDL carries cholesterol to your liver, where it can be removed from your body.
LDL cholesterol, or cholesterol carried by LDLs, is known as “bad” cholesterol. That’s because LDL transports cholesterol to your arteries, where it can build up. If cholesterol builds up too much, it can restrict blood flow through the blood vessels. This can lead to health complications.
If you have too much LDL cholesterol, you’re said to have high cholesterol. Risk factors that may contribute to high cholesterol include:
- Having a higher body weight
- Eating foods that are high in cholesterol
- Eating foods that are high in saturated fats or trans fats
- Not getting enough physical activity
High cholesterol generally doesn’t cause any symptoms. The only way to know for sure if your cholesterol is high is to take a blood test.
If you do have high cholesterol, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, like getting more exercise or changing your eating habits. They may also prescribe medication.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient. Its primary function is to support bone health, which it does by helping your body absorb calcium.
Vitamin D needs vary by age. Here’s what the National Institutes of Health Recommends.
|Adults 19-70 years||15 mcg (600 IU)|
|Adults 71 years and older||20 mcg (800 IU)|
|Pregnant and breastfeeding women||15 mcg (600 IU)|
Can vitamin D help lower cholesterol?
Though there have been many studies done on vitamin D and cholesterol, there’s not enough evidence to say for certain if vitamin D helps lower cholesterol.
A 2012 study published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology found that supplementing with vitamin D did nothing to lower participants’ cholesterol. In fact, participants experienced an increase in LDL.
However, a study published in 2014 found that among a group of postmenopausal women who supplemented with D3 and calcium increased their HDL and lowered their LDL over the course of the study. And a 2016 study of professional rowers found that vitamin D supplements helped reduce the blood cholesterol.
All told, there’s not enough evidence to say one way or another if vitamin D helps lower cholesterol. But since it’s an essential vitamin that your body needs to remain healthy, it can’t hurt to make sure you get all the vitamin D you need each day.
Where to find vitamin D
Vitamin D comes from several sources, including foods, supplements, and sunshine.
Vitamin D from food
There aren’t many foods that naturally contain vitamin D. Instead, many people get vitamin D from fortified foods. Some common food sources of vitamin D include:
- Fatty fish
- Egg yolks
- Beef liver
- Mushrooms that have been exposed to ultraviolet light
- Fortified milk and fortified plant-based milk
- Fortified cereals
Vitamin D from dietary supplements
There are 2 supplements to increase vitamin D in the blood: vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol).
Vitamin D from the sun
Cholesterol helps the body make vitamin D from sunlight. This happens when the skin is directly exposed to the sun.
While sunlight can be a great way to get some of your vitamin D needs met, certain factors like cloudy weather can cut down on the amount of vitamin D your skin produces. Additionally, since too much sun exposure can be dangerous, it’s a good idea to supplement with vitamin D or eat foods that contain it.
Vitamin D side effects
You may experience side effects if you take too much vitamin D. Side effects can include:
- Nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Confusion or disorientation
- Kidney damage
If you take vitamin D supplements, be sure to take only the amount your body needs.
Vitamin D is an important nutrient. There’s not enough evidence to say if it helps decrease cholesterol, but it’s still healthy to make sure you get enough of it. You can get vitamin D through foods, supplements, or exposure from the sun.