Also Known As: Vitamin D3, Cholecalciferol, Calcitriol, Rocaltrol, Calcijex, Decostriol
Vitamin D is a group of fat-soluble secosteroids. In humans, vitamin D is unique both because it functions as a prohormone and because the body can synthesize it (as vitamin D3) when sun exposure is adequate (hence its nickname, the "sunshine vitamin").
Measures of serum levels (from a vitamin D3 blood test) reflect endogenous synthesis from exposure to sunlight as well as intake from the diet, and it is believed that synthesis may contribute generally to the maintenance of adequate serum concentrations. The evidence indicates that the synthesis of vitamin D from sun exposure works in a feedback loop that prevents toxicity but, because of uncertainty about the cancer risk from sunlight, no recommendations are issued by the Institute of Medicine, USA, for the amount of sun exposure required to meet vitamin D requirements. Accordingly, the Dietary Reference Intakes for vitamin D assume that no synthesis occurs and that all of a person's vitamin D is from their diet.
When synthesized in the kidneys, calcitriol circulates as a hormone, regulating the concentration of calcium and phosphate in the bloodstream and promoting the healthy growth and remodeling of bone. Vitamin D prevents rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults, and, together with calcium, helps to protect older adults from osteoporosis. Vitamin D also affects neuromuscular function, inflammation, and influences the action of many genes that regulate the proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis of cells.
The evidence for the health effects of vitamin D supplementation in the general population is inconsistent. The best evidence of benefit is for bone health and a decrease in mortality in elderly women.