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Vitamin D for the dark days of winter!

Toronto Holistic Nutritionist Laurie McPhail Vitamin DThis morning as I was getting ready to head outside, I lamented/cursed having to layer on just about everything in my closet.  Yes, I am a wimp and I really do not love the cold.  As I covered up every exposed bit of me (I would have donned a balaclava if I owned one), I thought that now would be a very good time to remind folks to up your vitamin D supplement if you haven’t already.

The reason I say “up it” is because vitamin D is a good supplement to take all year round, particularly if you are a vegan or vegetarian, as the only good food sources are animal products.  Of these, the richest sources are fatty fish (and cod liver oil…yum!) and, to a lesser extent, beef liver, egg yolks and milk.

That said, the human body doesn’t really need to get vitamin D from the diet.  In fact, it is quite difficult to get adequate amounts from food even if you aren’t a vegan/vegetarian.  Our bodies, however, are quite adept at synthesizing it from cholesterol in our skin in the presence of sunlight.

Your body can make all the vitamin D it needs in summer.

Your body can produce 10,000 to 25,000 IU of vitamin D in just a little under the time it takes for your skin to begin to burn in the sun.  For me, that is about 15 minutes.  The amount depends on the time of day and amount your skin is exposed, where you live and how fair/dark your skin is.  I am very fair so my skin is quite quick to produce it.  Once made, a two-step process (in the liver and then the kidneys) activates it to its biologically active form.

During the Canadian winter, supplementation is the name of the game!

This process requires exposure to sunlight (or other ultraviolet light).  And this means skin that has not been slathered with sunscreen, which blocks the UV light required.  Just 15 to 20 minutes of “unprotected sun” early in the day is sufficient.  If you are always wearing sunscreen when outdoors, you’ll want to supplement.

But during Canada’s deep, dark winter months (approximately November through March), the sun isn’t strong enough to make much vitamin D, even if you were crazy enough to be exposing your skin to the elements at these frigid temperatures.  At this time of year, supplementation is the name of the game.

Why is it so important to supplement Vitamin D?

Vitamin D does a whole lot of good, which is why almost every cell in the body has vitamin D receptors!  This is just a sampler platter of what vitamin D does in the body:

Keeps your bones healthy.  Vitamin D enhances your gut’s absorption of calcium and phosphorous, helps regulate their levels in the blood and promotes remineralization of bone.  Without vitamin D, you could binge out on calcium-rich foods in your diet and it won’t get into your bones.  So insufficient vitamin D increases risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis.  Also, studies show that elderly populations that have supplemented vitamin D for a period of years tend to have significantly less falls (likely as a result of its role in neuromuscular function), reducing risk of bone fracture.

Boosts your immunity.  Vitamin D insufficiencies tend to be associated with most infectious illnesses.  Further, daily supplementation of vitamin D seems to lower the risk of several upper respiratory tract infections.  This is very handy during cold season.

Regulates your blood sugar.  Vitamin D appears to enhance the secretion and function of insulin, the hormone which allows your body to use carbohydrates for energy and controls your blood sugar.  Studies show that people with low vitamin D levels are more likely to be obese.

Helps prevent depression.  Research shows that vitamin D helps regulate epinephrine and norepinephrine and dopamine production in the brain.  It also helps protect serotonin from becoming depleted.  Serotonin is one of the so-called “happy hormones”, which regulates mood as well as sleep and appetite.  Insufficient vitamin D levels appear to increase risk of depression.

How much Vitamin D do I need?

Vitamin D is fat-soluble, which means your body can store it. The Endocrine Society states that up to 10,000 IU per day is a safe level for adults.  This may seem like a lot, but remember that your body can produce 10,000 to 25,000 IU of vitamin D after a just a little bit of full-body sun exposure on a single day.  Vitamin D toxicity, where vitamin D can be harmful, usually only happens if you take 40,000 IU a day for a couple of months or longer.

Health Canada guidelines suggest staying below 4,000 IU per day (from food and supplements, combined).  Speak to your health care practitioner before taking supplements as they can advise you on the right amount for you.  Be sure that your supplement is the D3 (cholecalciferol) form.  This is the most natural form and more readily absorbed by our bodies.  And we absorb drops better than tablets or capsules.

So when you are in the deep, dark, days of winter, don’t forget to think “D”.  And if it can’t be “D for Dominica”, then be sure its “D for vitamin D”, “D for Drops” and “D for Does a whole lot of good”!

 

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