Vitamin D has been getting increasingly positive attention over the years as more and more studies link it to a wide range of health benefits, from boosting the immune system to preventing some forms of cancer. As more studies are done, it becomes a common nutritional supplement that’s even recognized as essential and prescribed by physicians.
Here are a few quick facts and tips about this essential substance:
•It is a hormone produced under the skin when it is exposed to sunshine; cholesterol is a vital component of vitamin D production. The same form of vitamin D that is produced in the human body, D3, can be found in butter, egg yolk, salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines. Those fish are also great sources of Omega 3 fatty acids.
•During warm weather months, the optimal amount of time to spend with skin exposed to the sun is just 10-20 minutes daily (without sunscreen but never allow skin to burn) between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to take advantage of D-producing ultraviolet B rays.
•When showering within 48 hours of sun exposure, washing may reduce some of the vitamin D production. Instead, just rinsing the exposed skin and washing the “hidden” parts can be a more effective method of preserving the natural D.
•Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, so supplements must be consumed along with some fat, such as cold-pressed olive oil for example, for optimal assimilation in the body.
One of the primary functions of vitamin D is to maintain proper blood levels of calcium and phosphorus; it also causes the minerals to be deposited into bone tissue, which explains its strong connection to bone and tooth health. Further studies show positive health effects far beyond bones, including links to reduced cancer risks—especially for breast, lung and colon cancers—improvement in inflammatory conditions like arthritis and autoimmune conditions such as MS, as well as cardiovascular health benefits.
In addition to the average Canadian, who typically needs to use supplemental vitamin D from November through April, there are some people who may have more of a tendency toward a D deficiency. Dark-skinned individuals produce less vitamin D naturally; overweight individuals require higher amounts to maintain adequate storage levels; those who are on statin drugs may have insufficient cholesterol in the body to produce the vitamin; older individuals often have lower levels, which may be due to lifestyle factors; and pregnant women have greater nutritional needs as well.
Health Canada recommends supplementation for adults at 1000 international units during late fall to late spring, but vitamin D levels are easily measured via a blood test (note: OHIP no longer covers this cost) in order to determine if a higher amount is required.
Vitamin D may not be a miracle cure-all but is certainly an essential item in your healthy toolkit.