Why right now is the right time to rethink your vitamin D intake.
As spring brings with it warmer temperatures and sunnier days, don’t be so quick to pack away that bottle of vitamin D along with your winter boots. While the main source of vitamin D comes from soaking up the sun’s rays, many Canadians may be getting much less than they think during warmer months. And now research is showing that boosting intake and increasing stores all year long could have increasing benefits for your health.
Why Do We Need Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is best known for helping the body use calcium and phosphorus to build and maintain strong bones and teeth. When we don’t get enough vitamin D – a.k.a. the “sunshine vitamin” – the ability to absorb calcium drops significantly, leading to bone fractures and breaks. “In addition to providing critical support for bone and teeth health, many cells and tissues also rely on vitamin D for their functioning, including those in the immune system, nervous system, cardiovascular system and brain,” says Andrea Donsky, registered holistic nutritionist, health and wellness TV expert, and founder of naturallysavvy.com, a website that offers the latest news on making healthier lifestyle choices.
In fact, recent studies are also linking higher levels of vitamin D to a lower risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, colorectal, breast and prostate cancers, and a host of other diseases.
When production of the vitamin is low in children, it can have significant consequences, adds Donsky. Aside from rickets, it has been linked to allergic diseases, atopic dermatitis, eczema, bone pain, dental deformities, diminished growth and bone fractures (more on how much vitamin D is required for children and suggested supplements to take later on).
Where Do You Get Vitamin D?
There are three main sources of vitamin D:
- foods/fortified foods
- sun exposure
The only natural sources of the vitamin come from fatty fish (salmon, trout) and egg yolks. In Canada, cow’s milk and margarine are required to be fortified with vitamin D; other foods like goat’s milk, plant-based beverages (such as soy milk), yogurt, cheeses and some orange juices may be fortified.
While getting outside and exposing skin to the sun’s UVB rays will help the body synthesize the essential vitamin, there’s a caveat: it works best for light-skinned people and requires sunlight (without sunscreen) for at least 15 minutes a day to several areas of the body at peak times during warmer seasons – what might be considered a luxury for some who struggle to have some free time during a busy day at home or at the office. Cloud coverage and smog also limit your exposure.
“We can get adequate amounts of vitamin D for two or three months,” explains Donsky. “But we can get less in the summer if we’re not spending a lot of time outdoors or we wear sunscreen, which blocks our ability to make vitamin D. The key is to get your vitamin D levels to a specific blood level range.”
With limitations in food and sunlight, supplements are often recommended as a safe and reliable source to boost production.
How Much Do I Need?
“That depends on who you ask,” says Donsky, citing the conflict in recommendations among health experts.
Most organizations, including Health Canada, recommend a daily intake for vitamin D of 400 to 800 International Units (IU), with a safe upper limit of 4,000 IU. Health Canada recommends infants be given 400 IU, while children and adults take 600 IU and seniors 70 years-plus 800 IU, however, its guidelines are based on research from 2010. Still, Osteoporosis Canada states adults between 19 and 50 years of age, including pregnant or breastfeeding women, require 400 to 1,000 IU daily, while those over 50 (the older you are, the less likely your body absorbs nutrients) or at high risk should receive 800 to 2,000 IU daily. Excessive amounts of the vitamin can lead to calcium deposits, which can cause high blood pressure and kidney damage.
How Do I Know If I’m Deficient?
There is consensus, however, on the best way to check if your body is storing enough vitamin D – by doing a simple blood test to check your 25-hydroxy-vitamin-D (25(OH)D) level. The test can be ordered by your health-care practitioner.
According to the Vitamin D Society, “In Canada, doctor lab tests consider the normal range to be between 75 to 150 nmol/L or higher in some provinces…Health Canada’s guidelines recommend maintaining vitamin D levels of at least 50 nmol/L. However, researchers estimated that if Canadians could raise their mean level of vitamin D to at least 100 nmol/L, it would prevent approximately 23,000 premature deaths.”
Which Supplements Do I Choose?
Supplements that contain vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) are recommended since it is the type your body produces from sunlight, says Donsky. Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is metabolized differently and not as effective in raising blood levels of vitamin D.
Image Courtesy of Sundown Naturals
Sundown Naturals, which has a full line of clean vitamins and supplements, offers an easy-to-swallow adult Vitamin D3 softgel that has no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives and is non-GMO, gluten-free and dairy-free. Each softgel offers 1000 IU per day to help individuals better reach their recommended intakes.
Image Courtesy of Sundown Naturals
Kids will have an easier time taking their supplements with Sundown’s Vitamin D Gummies in a natural strawberry, lemon and orange flavour. Each gummy also provides 1000 IU per day.
Interested in learning more? Visit the Sundownnaturals.ca to learn more and where to buy.