How is vitamin D deficiency treated?

Mark P. Caruso, MD
Internal Medicine
The vitamin most associated with sunshine, vitamin D is produced by the body in response to sunlight.

Vitamin D protects us against various health problems. Treatment usually involves getting more vitamin D through diet and supplements. It's found in a few foods -- including some fish, fish liver oils, egg yolks -- and in fortified dairy and grain products.

There is no clear consensus on vitamin D levels needed for optimal health. This may differ depending on your age and current health condition. A concentration of less than 20 nanograms per milliliter is generally considered inadequate, requiring treatment.

Vitamin D is important for people with osteoporosis. Studies show that calcium and vitamin D together can increase bone density. Vitamin D also helps with other disorders associated with weak bones, like rickets.
Two forms of vitamin D supplement exist: D2 (ergocalciferol, derived from plants) and D3 (cholecalciferol, derived from mammals). D3 is more rapidly absorbed, but either is sufficient for treatment. Interestingly, small studies showed that sunlight exposure alone is insufficient for treatment. The supplement’s half-life is approximately 2 weeks; maximal clinical response usually is within a month of therapy and may persist for 2 months after stopping therapy.

Controversy exists regarding treatment doses, schedule and duration. A recent report in Pediatrics highlighted several cases of mild hypercalcemia from vitamin D replacement. Thus, take care when choosing a dose and treatment duration. Follow-up is needed to monitor 25-hydroxy vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus levels. Special populations including children with malabsorption or obesity may require 2-3 times higher doses to reach goal 25-hydroxy vitamin D level >30 ng/ml.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.