You know vitamins are super important for health.
But vitamin D is special.
It's difficult to get enough vitamin D and therefore it is a very common deficiency, especially in northern countries or states.
Known as the "sunshine vitamin," it is made in your skin and acts almost like a hormone throughout the body. However, between the months of September to May, the sun loses its intensity here in Canada, and most of the northern US. You need to look to other methods to boost your vitamin D intake.
Why is vitamin D important, and how much do we need?
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin and critical to our health.
It helps us absorb calcium from our food and acts like a hormone to help us build strong bones. Vitamin D can also help with immune function, cellular growth, and prevent mood imbalances, such as depression and seasonal affective disorder.
Not getting enough vitamin D can lead to bone diseases like osteomalacia. Inadequate vitamin D can also increase your risk of heart disease, autoimmune diseases, certain cancers, and even death.
The "official" minimum amount of vitamin D to strive for each day is merely 400 - 600 IU. Many experts think that this is not nearly enough for optimal health and even doctors are recommending upwards of 4,000 IU daily. But for the sake of this article, we will focus on the "official" recommendation.
There are three ways to get vitamin D - from the sun, food and supplements.
How can I get enough vitamin D from the sun?
Your skin makes vitamin D when it's exposed to the sun. This is why it's referred to as the "sunshine vitamin."
How much vitamin D your skin makes depends on many things. Location, season, clouds, clothing and skin colour can all affect the amount of vitamin D your skin can produce from the sun.
One standard recommendation is to get about 5 – 30 minutes of sun exposure between 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. to the face, arms, legs, or back. This should be done without sunscreen, at least twice a week. Of course, we should always avoid sunburns.
In some locations (and seasons of the year), it's not easy to get sun exposure. In Canada, the sun starts to lose strength September through May and we need to use other ways to get our daily D dose.
How can I get enough vitamin D from food?
Vitamin D is naturally found in small amounts in fatty fish, liver, and egg yolks. Some mushrooms also make vitamin D when they're exposed to the sun.
Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, you can increase absorption of it from your food if you eat it with some fat (healthy fat, of course). So, have those eggs with some avocado, liver with some coconut oil or organic bacon and mushrooms with coconut oil.
Some foods are "fortified" with vitamin D, which means vitamin D has been added. These include milk, some orange juices, breakfast cereals, and yogurt. It will say on the label how much vitamin D has been added per serving. But food companies usually use vitamin D2 - a lesser (and cheaper) form of vitamin D that is not as bioavailable as vitamin D3.
Yet, between sun exposure and food, it still may be difficult to get even the minimum of 400 IU of vitamin D each day. This is why vitamin D supplements are quite popular.
How can I get enough vitamin D from supplements?
Not all vitamin D supplements are created equal. You want vitamin D3 not D2. D3 is more bioavailable. Food manufacturers typically fortify with D2.
You can take a pill, drops or take some cod liver oil (which also contains fat soluble vitamin A).
All of these can ensure that you get the minimum 400 IU, plus a bit extra.
But before you take vitamin D containing supplements, make sure you check that it won't interact with other supplements or medications you may be taking. Always read your labels, and ask a healthcare professional for advice.
Do not take more than the suggested dosage on the label of any vitamin D supplement, except under medical care.
The maximum amount recommended (for the general population) is 4,000 IU/day. Too much vitamin D can raise your blood levels of calcium (to an unsafe level), and this can affect your heart and kidneys.
If you're concerned, ask your healthcare professional to do a blood test and make a recommendation about how much vitamin in supplement form is right for you. The test is not covered by OHIP, but it's relatively inexpensive (around $50).
Based on your results and current health, your healthcare practitioner may recommend higher amounts of vitamin D supplementation for a short time while under their care.
Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble vitamin. Many people have a hard time maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D. There are three ways to get enough vitamin D: sun exposure, through certain foods, and in supplements.
I've given you some ideas how you can get the minimum 400-600 IU or vitamin D daily.
If you're concerned, it's best to request a blood test that tests your vitamin D levels to be sure what's right for you. Always take supplements as directed.