Vitamin D Deficiency

Jan 18, 2022

By Barret Procyshyn, Pharmacist at Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy.

Our winters not only mean cold weather, but also short days with long nights. We do not have many hours of sunlight, with many of us going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark. Even on some of our sunny weekends, it can be hard to get outside. If we do make it outside, we are bundled up and our sun exposure is kept to a minimum. Some of us also have milk allergies and some choose to adhere to a vegan or dairy free diet. A lack of sun exposure and dietary restrictions put as at risk of Vitamin D deficiency.

Often referred to at the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is produced by the body in response to skin being exposed to sunlight. It is also found naturally in a select number of foods such as egg yolks, some fish species (salmon, tuna, sardines) and fish liver oils. Most of the vitamin D obtained from the diet comes from fortified dairy and grain products.

Vitamin D is absolutely essential for strong bones, as it is required for the body to use calcium from the diet. For centuries, its been known a lack of vitamin D causes rickets, a disease where the bone tissue does not properly form and leads to soft bones and skeletal deformities. However, research is revealing the importance of vitamin D in protecting against a host of health problems. A lack of vitamin D may be a reason why people in cold climates have some of the highest rates of Multiple Sclerosis in the world. It may even increase your risk of more severe complications of COVID-19.

Many who have low vitamin D are asymptomatic or only have minor symptoms not easily attributed to the deficiency. Low blood levels of the vitamin have been linked to cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment in seniors, asthma in children and even some types of cancer. Aside from MS research also suggests chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension may have a link. It is important to know we just see a link between vitamin D and illness like I have mentioned. The medical world has not yet proven a deficiency of vitamin D is a direct cause of any disease.

Aside from a lack of sun exposure or dietary restrictions, vitamin D deficiency can occur because of other reasons. Elderly, dark-skinned individuals are at high risk of deficiency because the melanin in their skin reduces the body's ability to make vitamin D. Elderly people with reduced kidney function have the same challenges. Digestive problems like Crohn's and celiac disease reduce your intestine's ability to absorb vitamins such as D. Vitamin D is extracted from the blood by fat cells, altering its release into the circulation. People clinically obese often have low blood levels of vitamin D.

The most common way to diagnose a vitamin D deficiency is to get a blood test. Treatment is usually also as simple, you increase it in your diet (preferred method) or use supplements to get more. Interestingly, there is not a determined optimal blood level of Vitamin D agreed upon in the health care world. It appears to differ, depending on age and health conditions. Common supplemented doses range from 200 IU to up to 4000 IU per day. Vitamin D supplements come in a variety of different formats from very inexpensive pills to swallow daily to tasty chewable gummies, all available at the DCP. There is also a significant amount of debate on whether to use vitamin D2 or D3. Vitamin D3 is produced in the body from sunlight exposure or from obtaining it from animal dietary sources. Vitamin D2 is usually found in plant sources and in supplemented foods. While vitamin D3 will usually get your blood levels up faster, one over the other is not a deal breaker. Also, remember vitamin D is still just a vitamin. Its not going to be a miracle cure or magic pill. You definitely do not need to take more than the recommended dose. The vitamin aisle can be a confusing and intimidating section of the pharmacy. If you have questions, ask your clinic pharmacist.

The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist, or other health care professional.


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