Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that has properties of both a vitamin and a hormone, and is required for the absorption and utilization of calcium and phosphorus. It is necessary for growth, and is especially important for the normal growth and development of bones and teeth in children. It protects against muscle weakness and is involved in regulation of the heartbeat. It is also important in the prevention and treatment of breast and colon cancer, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and hypocalcemia (low blood calcium levels); enhances immunity; and is necessary for thyroid function and normal blood clotting.
Where Can I Get Vitamin D?
There are several forms of vitamin D, including vitamin D2, which comes from food sources including: eggs, fish oil, cod liver oil, raw dairy products, grass-fed butter, oysters, salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, liver, dandelion greens, shiitake and chanterelle mushrooms, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, and vegetable oils. Vitamin D3 is synthesized in the skin in response to exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, and vitamin D5 is a synthetic form not easily absorbed. Of the three, vitamin D3 is considered the natural form of vitamin D and was thought to be the most active since it is difficult to reach adequate levels with food sources alone. Newer data shows that D2 is as effective a D3 in maintaining vitamin D levels in the blood; however, if you are one of the many Canadians who are low in Vitamin D, you may need a Vitamin D3 supplement to bring your levels back up into the normal range.
Exposing the face and arms to the sun for fifteen minutes three times a week without sunscreen is an effective way to ensure adequate amounts of vitamin D in the body; however this is for maintaining levels, not raising them.
Could I Be Deficient?
85% of us aren’t getting enough vitamin D. Those who live above the 37th latitude obtain virtually no vitamin D from sunlight between November and March.
Individuals at a higher risk for vitamin D deficiency include:
- Those who live above the 37th latitude (Canada Included)
- Those who don’t eat enough food sources of vitamin D
- Those with liver, gallbladder, kidney, or intestinal disorders (These organs are needed to convert vitamin D into an active, or usable, form, or interfere with absorption)
- Those taking certain medications such as cholesterol-lowering drugs, antacids, and steroid hormones such as cortisone (interfere with absorption)
- Hispanic-Americans and African-Amercians (more colour in the skin makes it harder to absorb vitamin D from sunlight)
Dangers of Vitamin D Deficiency Long-Term:
Chronic low levels of vitamin D have been linked to the development of several diseases including heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, autism, cancers such as breast and colon, and more. As baby boomers age, the risk of osteoporosis increases. Taking more than 400 IU of vitamin D has been shown to reduce the risk of fractures by 20% in those over sixty-five years of age.
How much Vitamin D Should I Be Taking?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is stored in the body. 1000 IU daily is the recommended dosage to maintain your levels; however, if you are deficient this dose is not effective for raising your levels, and you may need up to 10,000 IU depending on your levels. It is generally agreed that if you have not tested your vitamin D, you live in Canada, and suspect you may be deficient, 3000 IU daily is a safe dose, and should be taken from November to March. How much is needed to optimize health is still open for debate; however, taking too much vitamin D is possible if taken consistently over a long period. Ask your doctor to have your vitamin D levels tested annually to determine if you are deficient, and the appropriate dose you may need.