Have you heard of the sunshine vitamin? Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that we get from the sun hitting the skin and converting it into a hormone.
We also can get some vitamin D through food/fluid sources. The difficulty is getting enough vitamin D from the food supply, since our requirements generally exceed what we typically get out of food/fluids.
In colder months (October to March), individuals living in northern climates, such as Canada, can not convert the hormone in the skin. The sun’s rays are too weak at this time of year.
Due to these two reasons, many Canadians have a vitamin D deficiency. With a chronically low level of vitamin D, individuals may have a reduced immune system, which over time, may increase likelihood of developing conditions ranging from colds/flu, auto-immune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, fibromyalgia, respiratory conditions, osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Vitamin D is in some foods, such as salmon, mackerel, egg yolks, liver and is also in fortified foods/fluids, such as milk, some cereals, margarine and soy drinks. In general, the daily amount required by our body exceeds what is readily available through dietary sources.
Many scientists and doctors who study vitamin D agree that at least a third of the world is deficient in vitamin D.
Some scientists think even a greater percentage are deficient. This is because we live as an indoor society, more so now than ever before in human history. Vitamin D expert, Dr. Robert Heaney states, “It’s now clear that our ancestral vitamin D status was a lot higher than most citizens of the industrialized nations achieve today.”
A good rule of thumb for the warmer months of March to October is to check your shadow. Experts state that in order to make vitamin D, the sun needs to be high up in the sky, high enough so that your shadow is shorter than you. If your shadow is longer than you, the sun isn’t intense enough to help your body make vitamin D.
Also, in the summer, you don’t need to burn to make vitamin D. To make good amounts of vitamin D, you should spend half the time out in the sun that it would take for your skin to turn pink.
The recommended values for Daily Required Intake (DRI) amounts were historically based on preventing rickets in children and osteomalacia (weakened bones) in adults. As new research emerges, it has been discovered that there are vitamin D receptors in all body cells/tissues and hence vitamin D is required for the proper functioning of all body systems.
Therefore, it is essential to ensure adequate intake. In winter months, this generally means that a vitamin D supplement is required by the majority of the population.
DRI’s for age ranges:
Age 1-70: 600 IU (15 mcg)
Age 70-plus: 800 IU (20 mcg)
Upper Limit: 4000IU (100 mcg)
Certain individuals are at greater risk for developing conditions related to a vitamin D deficiency. These people include:
• populations living at northern latitudes (Canada)
• individuals spending majority time indoors
• covering up the skin/using sunscreen to protect from sunburns
• seniors/elderly (especially in long-term care homes)
• those with darker skin
• breastfed babies not receiving vitamin D drops
• pregnant women not receiving vitamin D supplements
• those with digestive problems or kidney conditions
• individuals on certain medications
• individuals who are overweight or obese.
“Something so simple, vitamin D supplementation could improve the health status of millions and so becomes an eloquent solution to many of our health problems today”, states Dr. Carol Wagner, vitamin D researcher.
Eating a well balanced diet will provide most of what the body needs to stay healthy, with the exception of vitamin D. This is one nutrient that the majority of the population requires supplementation daily.
* Sandra Gentleman is a local dietitian and steward of Canal Beach.