Spotlight on Vitamin D, the Sunshine Vitamin

With the days getting shorter, we’re getting into that time of year where we’re most at risk for a Vitamin D deficiency.  Why? Well, Vitamin D is called the “Sunshine Vitamin” because we get 90% of our Vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight (specifically UV-B). In the winter months, our exposure to sun decreases and so do our Vitamin D stores.  Vitamin D is most well-known for helping us absorb calcium, and keeping our bones strong. But the Sunshine Vitamin has receptors in almost every part of the body and has been found to play a part in: immune health, fighting cancer and autoimmune diseases, lowering blood pressure, preventing diabetes, and childhood growth.
You may have heard people saying that we should all be taking a Vitamin D supplement.  Let’s take a step back in time to explore this statement. When humans used to live on the land, we were exposed to sun constantly. Once we moved indoors, the decrease in sun exposure meant we made less Vitamin D. By the turn of the 20thcentury, over 80% of children in industrialized American and European cities had rickets (bone deformities in children due to poor calcium mineralization).
Would you get enough Vitamin D from the sun with soccer every day in the summer and cross-country skiing daily in the winter? Not if you wear an SPF of 8 or more – you’re blocking UV-B.  In the winter, because of the angle of the sun, those above a latitude of 37o(all of us Canadians and the upper half of the US) could spend all day soaking up the sun and convert very little or noVitamin D.
Can you get your daily dose of Vitamin D from food?  After the high incidence of rickets in children at the turn of the 20thcentury, Canada started fortifying milk and some cereals with Vitamin D.  But to get an adult minimum dose of 600 IU/day, you’d have to drink 6 cups of milk. Oily fishes like salmon, mackerel and herring can give you the daily minimal dose in a 3.5 oz serving but only if it’s farmed wild. Even with these dietary options, it is probably necessary for most to add a Vitamin D supplement, especially during the fall & winter mont
But all Vitamin D supplements are not created equal. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it required fat to be absorbed.  If you are taking a tablet form of the vitamin on an empty stomach, you are probably not absorbing any of it.  My favourite form is the pre-emulsified (dissolved in fat) “D-mulsion” which can be taken at any time, and gives you a whopping 1,000 IU in each drop.
But how much do you need? Even though the body uses 3,000-5,000 IU of Vitamin D every day the recommended daily amount is only 600 IU per day. This is because 600 IU was found to be the minimum amount required to maintain bone health in adults.  The American Endocrine Society recommends a dose between 1500-2000 IU to keep blood levels within a normal range. For those who are already deficient in Vitamin D, the therapeutic dose for treatment is much higher and should only be administered under the care of a naturopathic or medical physician.
When I therapeutically prescribe higher doses of Vitamin D, I am sometimes asked what dose is too high.  As an comparison, exposing yourself to the sun until the point where your skin starts to show a slight pinkness gives you a dose equivalent to 20,000 IU of oral Vitamin D.  But just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe for everyone. Vitamin D can be toxic at doses greater than 45,000 IU for prolonged periods and even smaller doses are contraindicated in those with conditions that cause excess calcium in the body, which can lead to cardiac complications.
As a side note, with the level of physical activity dropping in the winter and the holiday season adding on the pounds excess body fat and obesity is on the rise. People who are obese need 2-3 times the regular dose of Vitamin D. Talk to your doctor about the right amount for you.
And even though you may not get a lot of Vitamin D out of it, get out and have fun this winter!

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Article Written By: Jaty Tam ND. Dr. Jaty is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor in Toronto and the Medical Director and Co-Founder of Well Street Health. Driven by her passion for health education, and her desire to bring wellness principles to the corporate world (in which she spent many years before becoming a Naturopathic Doctor), Dr. Jaty, continues to inspire audiences and build innovative corporate wellness programs that cultivate winning wellness cultures.

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