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Is Vitamin D a Steroid? (According to a Nutritionist)

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED

During a recent conversation with my nutritionist, the topic of vitamins came up and how important some of them are at different times of the year.

What caught me by surprise was when he mentioned that scientific definitions of vitamin D actually classify it as a steroid.

And that got me a bit worried about how this might impact athletes and their perception.

So, I decided to spend a bit more time with this nutritionist to dissect the scientific literature and see what people need to be aware of.

Here’s what we found.

Quick Summary

  • Vitamin D is also known as the sunshine vitamin, as your body can produce it in the skin when exposed to UV rays from the sun.
  • Because the body can produce it, it’s completely different from all other vitamins, and the molecular structure and impact on the body are also different.
  • When produced in the skin, vitamin D is technically a steroid hormone, and it can have many beneficial impacts, including immune and bone health.

Is Vitamin D Considered a Steroid?

A muscular person in the gym holding pills

Yes, the vitamin D that your body produces is technically a form of steroid.

And there is one main reason why scientists designate it as a steroid [1].

Your body produces steroids naturally in the skin cells by synthesizing other molecules and minerals.

Strictly speaking, a vitamin is an essential nutrient, which means that you have to take it in through the food you eat [2].

Now, there are plenty of ways to get a boost of vitamin D through your diet, like eating more fish, shellfish, and even beef liver [3].

But with the right amount of safe sun exposure, you shouldn’t become vitamin D deficient.

“Vitamin D, which has the chemical structure of a steroid molecule, is derived from cholesterol and is similar to the adrenal and sex hormones.”

- Gunda Siska, PharmD at pharmacytimes.com

When it enters the bloodstream, it also binds to receptors in the body, very similar to other hormones.

And the result of this is different triggers like boosting bone density, testosterone production, and immune responses.

Why Is There So Much Confusion?

The main reason that people get confused about vitamin D is that it’s so heavily marketed in vitamin supplements.

Doctors increasingly recommend taking such supplements, especially in winter, to avoid a deficiency that could impact your immunity [4].

And because it’s not marketed as a “steroid supplement,” people simply consider it a vitamin.

Now, I could see why it would be tricky to now switch to calling it a steroid.

With so much attention on banned drugs in the sporting world, it could end up causing even more confusion. 

Personally, I think it’s best to just continue referring to it as a vitamin and simply focus on all the benefits it can provide for general health and muscle recovery.

Are There Performance Benefits?

A muscular male flexing biceps in the gym

Yes, there are performance benefits from having enough vitamin D.

Research studies have shown that it plays a key role in muscle protein synthesis and the delivery of ATP to muscles [5].

ATP is a form of energy that fuels muscle contractions, commonly called the body’s energy currency.

But, it’s important to understand that this is not some superhero boost or even remotely like the boost people can get from taking anabolic steroids.

Nevertheless, vitamin D can boost testosterone and help you perform at optimum levels.

Related: Best Vitamin D Supplements

“Vitamin D has a number of important functions in the body, like enhancing immunity, aiding calcium absorption and muscle function, and decreasing inflammation. While there is some evidence to show that vitamin D can help with sports performance and reduce injuries, the evidence is not conclusive. “

- Melissa Morris, Acsm-Certified Exercise Physiologist, And Issn-Certified Sports Nutritionist with QuickQuote.com

FAQs

Why Is Vitamin D Important for Athletes?

Vitamin D is important for athletes because it can help to reduce inflammation and soreness from exercise.

But it’s also an important trigger for muscle protein synthesis, which is a key part of bulking and exercise recovery [6].

Can Vitamin Supplements Cause a Positive Drug Test?

Yes, vitamin supplements and excessive intake can cause a false positive drug test.

However, it’s more common to happen with vitamins B and C, with not much evidence that vitamin D could cause the same problem [7].

Gain Performance Boosts in a Safe Way

Keeping on top of your vitamin D levels is key to a healthy immune system, bone density, and muscle development.

And while it is strictly speaking a steroid, it won’t have the same performance boost effects as medical steroids do.

If you’re seeking that boost without harming your health, we have tested dozens of natural steroid alternatives to test how they impact performance and endurance.

Such recommended legal steroids might not be as potent and fast working as medical ones, but they can still help you get to your goals faster without nasty side effects and a failed drug test.


References:

  1. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.118.311585
  2. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/view/vitamin-d-is-the-new-hormone
  3. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-d/
  4. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-929/vitamin-d
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7071499
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3497950
  7. https://www.singlecare.com/blog/medications-that-cause-false-positive-drug-test/
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