The following article was originally published in The Paris News. The links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Vitamin D – the “sunshine vitamin” seems like an appropriate topic to discuss today given the last few sunny days we’ve had.

Not exactly a vitamin and not exactly a hormone, vitamin D has properties of both. Most of you would not be surprised to know that vitamin D is primarily involved with bone health by supporting calcium absorption from the foods you eat. Researchers have found vitamin D receptors, however, in almost every organ system – including the brain, gut, heart and blood vessels. While the exact mechanisms of action are currently being studied, most practitioners presume that vitamin D plays at least a partial role in mood, metabolism, and cardiovascular health.

Studies have shown low vitamin D levels to be associated with multiple chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and various cancers. Asthmatics with normal levels of vitamin D have fewer hospitalizations and need less medication than asthmatics with low levels of vitamin D. Patients on chronic pain medications report their medication seems to be more effective when their vitamin D levels are normal. You can start to see why vitamin D is heralded as a powerhouse of a dietary supplement.

I say supplement because that is where most people need to get their vitamin D. Yes, vitamin D is naturally made by our bodies when sunlight hits our skin, setting off a cascade of chemical reactions, but there are many variables that can influence this process. Where you live, your skin color and even the level of air pollution around you all have an influence on how much vitamin D your body can make. Add to that spending long periods of time indoors and using sunscreen while outdoors and it is no wonder that most estimates show about 40% of U.S. adults have low levels of vitamin D.  

Foods with naturally high levels of vitamin D exist – mostly fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines. In fact, Elmer McCollum is widely credited with “discovering” vitamin D in 1912 after observing the effects of cod liver oil on rickets. Milk, cereal, and orange juice can all be “fortified” with supplemental vitamin D – but don’t let that fool you. The high amount of sugar in those products can often negate any health benefits they may be claiming. My personal recommendation for the best vitamin D-rich salmon available is Vital Choice. The line-caught salmon and salmon roe are personal favorites. For smaller fish, and for a quick and easy meal, my wife and I both love Wild Planet sardines in extra virgin olive oil. You can eat the fish and use the extra oil as a salad dressing. 

Before you simply add a vitamin D supplement to your daily regimen, know that you can indeed, take too much.  As a fat-soluble vitamin, it can be extremely difficult for your body to eliminate excess vitamin D from your system. Oddly enough, too much vitamin D can paradoxically cause many of the bone problems you would be trying to prevent by adversely affecting calcium metabolism.

If you do decide to look into vitamin D supplementation, vitamin D3 is more closely correlated to your body’s natural form of vitamin D (as opposed to the D2 form) and most people can safely take somewhere between 1,000IU and 5,000IU daily. Make sure to measure your individual vitamin D levels in your next blood test, and ask a trusted health care professional what they recommend for you specifically.

For “best in class” – and the supplement you will find in my medicine cabinet – I recommend Thorne Vitamin D 5,000 IU daily. If you prefer a liquid over a pill, and would like the added benefits of Vitamin K2, Thorne Vitamin D3/K2 liquid is a good option. Finally, the best “budget” option I would recommend is Nature Made Vitamin D3 5,000 IU daily.