Nutrient of the Month: Vitamin D

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With summer around the corner, I thought it was appropriate to write about the “sunshine vitamin.” I’m talking about vitamin D!

We all know that we get vitamin D from the sun. But with all the worries about skin cancer, how do we ensure we’re getting enough vitamin D safely?

Did you know that you need less than an hour of sun exposure to create enough vitamin D? If you’re fair-skinned, aim for 10-15 min in the summer sun. If you have darker complexion, aim for 30-40 minutes.

Unfortunately, if you live in a smoggy city with high rise buildings, like I do here in Toronto, you’ll have a harder time getting enough vitamin D. And if you live in northern geographic areas, winter times will be especially tough. These are some instances where vitamin D supplementation can be helpful.

But what is vitamin D actually used for?

Important for Strong Bones

When you think of bones, you think of calcium. But adequate calcium absorption is not possible without vitamin D! In fact, it’s equally as important for the absorption and utilization of phosphorus – another important bone mineral.

A study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that people with increased vitamin D3 levels (86 nmol/L) absorbed about 65% more calcium than people with lower levels of vitamin D3 (50 nmol/L).

Because of this, vitamin D aids in the normal development of bones and teeth in children and also prevents and may treat osteoporosis and arthritis.

Crucial for Heart Health

Vitamin D is important for heart health for a few different reasons. Because it boosts calcium absorption, it’s involved in regulating heartbeat. Click here to learn more.

Population studies have suggested that low vitamin D levels significantly increase risk of developing cardiovascular disease. This includes heart attack, stroke, heart failure, etc.

Anticancer Effects

Researchers are finding links between decreased vitamin D and increased cancer risk. A study showed that vitamin D can inhibit improper cell division and metastasis, reduce blood vessel formation around tumours, and regulate proteins that affect tumour growth.

Another study from Norway found that men and women diagnosed with breast, colon or prostate cancer in the summer had better survival outcomes than those diagnosed in the winter.

Regulates the Immune System

Vitamin D has anti-inflammatory properties and may reduce the risk of developing autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and multiple sclerosis. A Russian study shows that 2000 IU supplementation daily is required to experience these immune modulating effects.

Dr. John Campbell, a retired nurse teacher based in England uploaded a video on Youtube explaining the benefits of vitamin D and how it works to reduce risk of respiratory tract infections. I highly recommend checking this video out! He makes it very easy to understand.

Deficiency and Dosage

Vitamin D deficiency is actually quite common, especially in Canada and northern United States. A deficiency may becomes more noticeable during the winter, when many of us experience seasonal depression.

However, there are many other factors other than geographic location that may increase risk of deficiency. People with darker complexion require increased supplementation as it’s harder for their bodies to make vitamin D from the sun. In fact, as much as 70-80% of Hispanic Americans and African Americans may be deficient in vitamin D because of this.

Obesity also increases the risk of vitamin D deficiency. A meta-analysis evaluated that regardless of age and geographic location, vitamin D deficiency risk was 35% greater than non-obese subjects.

Unfortunately, age also plays a role in vitamin D deficiency. As we age, we lose the ability to produce vitamin D from sunlight. This could also be why osteoporosis is so prevalent in the elderly.

Finally, certain drug medications can cause vitamin D deficiency including anticonvulsants, cimetidine or Tagamet (a stomach acid reducer), corticosteroids, heparin and diuretics.

For most people, supplementation of 1000 IU should be sufficient and safe. Personally, I take this amount each day and have noticed an overall happier feeling and better mental headspace! But as always, talk to your doctor before taking a new supplement, especially if you have other health conditions.

Sources of Vitamin D

  • sunlight
  • fish liver oils and fatty saltwater fish (cod liver oil, salmon, halibut, tuna, etc.)
  • dairy
  • eggs
  • vegetable oils
  • mushrooms

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