Updated: Apr 5
Preventative Health Series Part. II
Last month I introduced my preventative health series with an article about the importance of vitamin B12. This series shines a light on three very important nutrients, their roles in the body and ways to improve your levels. The purpose of this series is to encourage you to check the levels of theses nutrients on a regular basis and support them if necessary. This month’s article is about Vitamin D – the “sunshine vitamin”.
As we soak up the final rays of sun before our days get shorter and colder, it is time to take out your bottle of vitamin D. Your body makes vitamin D from cholesterol when your skin is exposed to sunlight. Don’t get me wrong – I am an advocate of getting all of your vitamin D from the sun but because of the country’s northern latitudes, Canadians can’t produce vitamin D naturally from the sun for four to six months of the year. According to Stats Canada 32% of Canadians are below the acceptable cut off point for vitamin D levels (30 nmol/L). That is a whole lot of people at risk for the many diseases and conditions that a deficiency in vitamin D is associated with!
Vitamin D is measured through a blood test. In general, results of less than 30 nmol/L point to a vitamin D deficiency, while the range between 30 to 50 nmol/L signals a potential deficiency.
An interesting study assessed the economic savings in health care in Canada if serum vitamin D levels were raised. For example:
Cancer – increasing vitamin D levels from 75 to 105 nmol/L is believed to decrease cancer rates by 25 per cent.
Cardiovascular disease – Vitamin D is believed to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by 25 per cent if levels are increased from 62.5 to 105 nmol/L
Type 2 diabetes mellitus – A New Zealand study indicates increasing vitamin D levels to above 80 nmol/L can improve insulin resistance by 12 per cent. Increasing vitamin D levels from 25 to 75 nmol/L results in a 60 per cent improvement in insulin sensitivity
In pregnancy adequate vitamin D levels can reduce the C-section rate by 50%!
It reduces the risk of pneumonia and influenza and can reduce the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis. And it has been well established that in adults, low levels of vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis (decreased bone mass), which also increases the risk of fractures.
Clearly we should be aiming for more optimal levels of Vitamin D, not just the “cut off point”.
Having dark skin or more melanin.
Being elderly. The body’s ability to produce vitamin D from the sun declines with age. For example a person aged 70, makes on average, 25% less Vitamin D that a 20 year old makes exposed to the same amount of sunlight.
Being overweight or obese. The Endocrine Society recognizes that people who are overweight or obese need 2-3 times the amount of vitamin D as a normal weight person to reach the same blood levels.
Not eating much fish or fortified dairy.
Living far from the equator where there is little sun year-round.
Always using sunscreen or being covered in clothing when going out.
Staying indoors – working indoors, gaming all day instead of going outside – like many teenagers do!
SIGNS OF DEFICIENCY
Frequent infections – observational studies have shown a link between vitamin D levels and frequency of respiratory illnesses such as colds, bronchitis, and pneumonia. Vitamin D plays a big role in maintaining your immune system.
Bone and Back Pain – A meta analysis showed that low back pain is associated with low vitamin D levels.
Depression – I always check my patients complaining of depression for vitamin D deficiency, (especially in my teenage patients) and have had great results supplementing if their levels are low.
Impaired wound healing
Muscle Pain – especially growing pains in children. This study showed that one dose of vitamin D reduced children’s growing pains by 57%.
Bone loss and fractures
SOURCES AND DOSES
Vitamin D is the only supplement that is recommended for babies straight from birth – if being nursed by their mom. 400 IU is the typical dose per day.
Sunshine -15-20 minutes of direct sun-to-skin contact without sunblock. By far the best.
Fatty fish – cod liver oil
Supplementation – if you live in Canada – is a must during the fall and winter months. Look for Vitamin D3 (not the synthetic D2). Take 1,000 IU daily unless you are deficient, in which case, follow your doctor’s dosage advice.
If getting adequate daily sunshine is problem in your life, or where you live, be sure that you are checking your vitamin D levels regularly and supplement if necessary. It can make a world of difference in how you feel!
Sahota, Opinder. “Understanding Vitamin D Deficiency.” Age and Ageing 43.5 (2014): 589–591. PMC. Web. 25 Sept. 2018.
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