The People's Perspective on Medicine

How to Raise Vitamin D with Sunshine and Cod Liver Oil

Getting out in the sunshine and taking cod liver oil are two ways to improve flagging vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because we make it when ultraviolet light from the sun strikes the skin. This compound behaves like a hormone. Numerous physiological functions depend heavily on it.

People with low levels of vitamin D are more likely to become depressed (Wong, Chin & Ima-Nirwana, Current Drug Targets, Sep. 13, 2017). They are also at greater risk of multiple sclerosis (Spencer, Bell & DeLuca, Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, Aug. 31, 2017).

Older women are weaker when their levels are low (Iolascon et al, European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine, online July 10, 2017). People with insufficient levels of vitamin D also suffer cardiovascular and skeletal complications. In addition, those who get enough of this vitamin fight off infections such as tuberculosis better (McCullough & Lehrer, Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, online July 26, 2017). How can you ensure that you have adequate vitamin D?

Sunshine and Cod Liver Oil for Improving Vitamin D:

Q. At the end of last winter, in March, I saw my doctor and learned that my vitamin D tested at 17! I was shocked, as I walk outdoors every day, all year long.

I am a black woman and I live in South Carolina. Without asking anything about my lifestyle, my doc prescribed 50,000 IUs of vitamin D2 every week for three months. I told her I’d follow through, but my plan was to instead resume taking my “favorite” (not!) cod liver oil (CLO). This is something I usually do, but had not done for about a year.

Three months later, after taking CLO daily, followed by a milk chaser, my vitamin D level was 48. My doctor was none the wiser. Of course, three months later meant it was now June and I had had more sunshine on my skin during my daily walks.

I was not happy that my doctor didn’t discuss the implications of my low vitamin D level. I was delighted, though, that my old-fashioned remedy–cod liver oil–worked! Thanks for your wisdom, grandma!

Boosting Vitamin D Levels:

A. According to the Endocrine Society, a 25-hydroxyvitamin D level below 20 indicates deficiency. At 17, you had a right to be alarmed.

Cod Liver Oil:

Old-fashioned cod liver oil contains vitamins D and A. Grandmothers dosed their families with it during the winter, assuming it acted like a tonic. Cod liver oil contains vitamin D3. People apparently assimilate and utilize this form of vitamin D more easily than the vitamin D2 in some supplements (Shieh et al, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, Aug. 2016).


Walking outdoors with your skin exposed to sunshine will boost vitamin D levels. A person like you with darker skin needs more sun exposure to make enough of the vitamin. Our Guide to Vitamin D Deficiency describes the consequences of low vitamin D levels as well as the pros and cons of your doctor’s prescription.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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my MD advises against CLO because of the over consumption of Vit A is possible and toxic. I like CLO because it keeps my immune system healthy’ Who is right?

How much Cod Liver Oil do you take? I remember as child my mother would give me a spoonful. Then I washed it down with an eggnog.

Does fish oil work to boost Vitamin D levels or only cod liver oil?

As a vegan, I would like to know a way to raise vit d w/out the use of animal products or synthetics.

Walking in the sun for vitamin D is only effective when the sun is above 50 degrees from the horizon.
A good way to test if the sun is about 50 degrees above the horizon, or higher, is that your shadow should be slightly shorter than you are tall. If the shadow cast by your body is the same length, or longer, than your height you will not produce Vitamin D–even while your skin is exposed to direct sunlight. And this is under ideal conditions: clear skies without cloud cover or pollution.

Note: this angle depends on many factors and Vitamin D production is not all or nothing. In actuality, you may start to produce a tiny amount of Vitamin D when the sun is slightly lower in the sky, but this amount seems to be inconsequential. It is only when the sun is 50 degrees or higher that the amount of Vitamin D produced starts to become significant. And the higher the sun is above 50 degrees, the higher the rate of your Vitamin D production.

The article mentions resistance to tuberculosis as one of the benefits of vitamin D. Few Americans worry about tuberculosis, but a lot of us worry about the flu, and vitamin D appears to be a star against the flu. Here is my own story.

For ten years or so straight, starting in the mid-90s, my wife and I both got flu-like illness in February, lasting two or three weeks and bad enough to put us to bed for a couple days to a week. Then, in about 2005, we learned about vitamin D. From 2005 until now, neither of us has had flu-like illness, and we stopped bothering with flu vaccines half a dozen years ago.

A level of 40 nanograms/milliliter to 50 ng/mL of vitamin D seems to be enough to ward off flu-like illness. The amount people must take to maintain levels between 40 and 50 varies from person to person. 2000 IU per day in winter and 1000 in summer is enough for me; my wife takes 5000 year-round. Since the flu season is almost upon us, getting a 25-hydroxy vitamin D3 blood test right away would be a good idea. In the meantime, taking 1000 IU of D3 a day is probably safe for most everybody.

Especially since vitamin D is so important for many other health reasons (try Googling “vitamin d” along with any disease that interests you, like, say, “colon cancer”), I’d say the right thing for the medical world to do would be to forget about flu vaccines and make sure people get the blood test every September or so.

I have been taking cod liver oil, first the liquid, and later in gel tablets, since 1950, when I heard a well known commentator discuss its benefits. Though it did not prevent arthritis in my knees and hands, I have not suffered twisted disfiguring joint damage. Also, I believe it has helped ward off vision problems, such as glaucoma and cataracts, though, at 85, my ophthalmologist says that I have the early stage of cataracts, which do not yet cause any loss of vision. Finding cod liver oil in any form is becoming increasingly difficult.

I use a tanning bed to increase my vitamin D. I usually tan about 10 minutes every few days and it leaves me feeling fantastic. It’s disturbing that the “medical community” is so against what we need for normal functioning. Anything in moderation as even too much water can harm you.

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