When Winter Hits - Information on Vitamin D

Dec 8, 2017

By Barret Procyshyn, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

Everyone needs vitamin D and its benefits are studied and well documented. Vitamin D is also very plentiful; it's everywhere when the sun is shining, and the skies are bright! Let me explain: While the sun itself is not actually giving you the vitamin D it does all the work. When the sun hits your skin, it catalyzes a reaction in the skin cells to generate vitamin D using substances naturally occurring in the body. Sounds easy to get and in fact it is quite easy. The problem is once winter is here we have a lot less skin exposure to the sun. Many of us go to work in the dark and come home in the dark. Because we live in a northern area, we are most likely to be at risk of having low levels of vitamin D. Some estimates show 30% to 80% of North Americans are vitamin D deficient. As we age, our ability to generate vitamin D is reduced by up to 75%. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and it can become trapped in body fat, leading to reduced blood levels in those who are overweight. Unlike most other vitamins, D is not found naturally in foods, so you cannot get enough from a regular diet, unless you are consuming a large amount of vitamin D fortified foods. These things being considered, daily vitamin D supplementation might be the right answer.

As mentioned, vitamin D is quite important. It is required by the body to help absorb different nutrients. Most importantly Vitamin D aids your gut in absorbing calcium and phosphate. We require these in adequate amounts to enable normal mineralization of bone, allow for normal bone growth and remodeling, and prevent muscle spasms or cramping. Calcium is even important for our brains to properly relay signals. As we spend more time with office jobs, on computers and in front of televisions we spend even less time outdoors. When we do go outside, we have been told to wear sunscreen and reduce exposure to protect us from the sun's damaging rays. While this is true, we get a lot less vitamin D production.

Vitamin D and its actions in the body are quite complex to explain. There are different forms of the fat-soluble vitamin, with the most potent being calcitriol. The version of vitamin D our body makes, and other animals make, is called cholecalciferol or simply D3. The plant form is vitamin ergocalciferol or D2. Vitamin D2 and D3 are not biologically active so they must be modified in the body to have health benefit.

A lack of vitamin D could also be responsible for higher rates of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in the north. Some interesting findings from medical studies support this theory. In one study, researchers discovered that increased levels in vitamin D concentration in the body seems to decrease the risk of developing MS by more than 30%. Additional data showed study participants with vitamin D deficiency were found to have a more than 40% higher chance of developing MS, as opposed to a person with average levels.

Optimal levels of vitamin D prevent cardiac events such as heart attacks. It is now often supplemented in geriatric populations and its shown to lessen the risk of falls. Proper vitamin D improves immunity and it may even be related to less diabetes and cancer.

If you head is spinning trying to understand vitamin D, do not worry. Supplementation is very simple, cheap, easy and effective. Most Canadian health organizations recommend 1000 IU of vitamin D in the fall and winter, while some resources recommend 2000 IU in northern populations. Breast fed babies are also advised to be given 1000 IU per day. Those who are overweight may need an increased dose for proper levels of absorption. It is a good idea to confirm supplementation with your pharmacist or physician. Vitamin D is extremely well tolerated by the body and you will not notice any adverse effects if it is taken at the standard dose. You must take a whole lot of vitamin D to be toxic so just follow your clinic pharmacist's advice. For a few dollars a month vitamin D is available in drops, liquid and pill form. It is also available in combinations with calcium and in found in standard multivitamins.


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