Are You Vitamin D-ficient?

Posted on Monday, January 11th, 2016

Written by Megan Scarth, AHN Student

Now that the frigid Canadian winter has begun, there’s a good chance that you’ve been spending less time outdoors in the sunshine. So does that mean that you’re still getting enough vitamin D?

While it’s true that vitamin D is found in certain types of foods, people generally get most of their vitamin D from the sun. The way that this process works is that when UV light from the sun hits your skin, it converts a substance in your skin called 7-dehydrocholesterol into vitamin D3. From there, this vitamin influences a variety of signaling pathways in your body, such as ones relating to calcium transporters to increase absorption of calcium.

But even if you can brave the cold and you’re spending a lot of time outdoors this season, you’re still probably not getting enough vitamin D from the sun. That’s because from October to spring in North America, the sun’s angle changes to make it more difficult for your body to produce vitamin D.

A wide number of conditions and diseases have been linked to insufficient levels of vitamin D, such as increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, and cancer. Some of these also include conditions linked to low levels of calcium due to interference with calcium absorption, such as osteoporosis.

According to Statistics Canada, about one-third of Canadians have vitamin D levels below the cut-off for good health. These numbers jump from about 25% of Canadians in the summer to 45% in the winter.

So what can be done, besides packing up your bags and moving to a sunny tropical island?

Including more vitamin D-containing foods in your diet is a good start. Some foods that naturally contain vitamin D include egg yolks and fatty fish such as salmon. In Canada, we also fortify some of our foods to include vitamin D, such as milk, yogurt, orange juice, and non-dairy beverages such as soy milk and almond milk. Health Canada recommends aiming for 600 IU per day for adults up to age 70.

Getting adequate amounts of vitamin D through diet alone can be difficult, however. Health Canada also recommends supplementing with 1000 IU of vitamin D per day. Just be careful not to go past the upper limit of 4000 IU of vitamin D per day. And be sure to take vitamin D3, which is the active form of vitamin D.

Being mindful of the importance of vitamin D and the amount that is required by your body is a great first step. It’s just one more reason to enjoy the warm, sunny weather while it’s here!

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