Any of a group of fat-soluble alcohols important in calcium metabolism in animals to form strong bones and teeth and prevent rickets and osteoporosis. It is formed by ultraviolet radiation (sunlight) of sterols (see steroid) present in the skin. The most important of these sterols are 7-dehydrocholesterol, formed by metabolic processes in animals, and ergosterol, present in vegetable oils. The action of sunlight on the skin converts these two compounds, respectively, to cholecalciferol (vitamin D) and ergocalciferol (vitamin D). Vitamin D is added to margarine, milk, and cereals for the benefit of those who may not get enough sunlight in winter. As little as 5 micrograms each day appear adequate for children. Because the body cannot excrete it, prolonged high intake can cause a toxic reaction including fatigue, nausea, and abnormal calcium accumulation.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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