There is no other vitamin that requires as much of a whole-body approach to its formation than vitamin D. It begins in the skin cells and then interacts with the bloodstream, liver, and the kidneys to form its fully active form, vitamin D3.
Some things that hinder adequate vitamin D formation include clouds, smog, and the dark months of winter.
Daily Recommendations in Canada
Here in Canada, we experience close to 5 months of winter and can suffer from a vitamin D deficiency, as a result. Vitamin D levels in Canada throughout the winter quite easily and frequently drop below the recommended daily requirements.
How much vitamin D per day in Canada should we get? Health Canada’s recommendation for daily dietary allowance is between 400 - 800 IU of vitamin D from food. The recommended daily amount of vitamin D also increases with age because of how important it is for our overall functioning.
The Functions of Vitamin D
Research shows that vitamin D supports the following bodily functions…
- Regulation of calcium metabolism and the formation of health bones and teeth
- Encourages the bodily use of the mineral, phosphorus, which is vital for bone maintenance and strength
- Vital to the functioning of the parathyroid gland
- Supports the function and maintenance of our nervous system and heart
- Encourage blood clotting
- Reduces the occurrence of the common cold when taken in conjunction with vitamin A
- Prevents muscle spasms
- Supports menopause and reduces the occurrence of symptoms like hot flashes and depression
If we are not getting adequate vitamin D from diet, we can supplement it. However, because it is a fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin D is potentially toxic in large doses. Symptoms of toxicity will present themselves when vitamin D is supplemented in excess or you’ve experienced an excessive amount of sun exposure. The resulting symptoms include excessive thirst, nausea, weakness, headaches, and in more serious cases will accelerate the process of atherosclerosis.
Being a fat-soluble vitamin means that when the food form of vitamin D is ingested, it is absorbed through the walls of the intestines with other fats and the process is assisted by our bile. When vitamin D is absorbed by the body, it is then stored in the liver, skin, brain, spleen, and bones. Because we maintain a bodily amount of vitamin D, when supplementing for therapeutic purposes, we must be careful about dosing.
Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms
Skin production of vitamin D decreases as we age and can contribute to bone density loss and osteoporosis. In children, deficiency to this degree will present instead as rickets, which leads to soft and fragile bones, or poor muscular development.
In a more general sense, vitamin D deficiency can contribute to poor teeth structure, increase susceptibility to bone fractures, muscular spasms, as well as poor vision and hearing loss.
Active Forms of Vitamin D
The most fully active form of vitamin D, vitamin D3, comes from combining it with cholesterols in the body. Calcitriol or vitamin D3 can be made easily when sourced from animal-sourced foods, like fish, cod liver oil, egg yolks, butter, and liver.
If you eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, you may suffer from low levels of vitamin D. Very few plants contain vitamin D and none will easily contribute to the production of vitamin D3. Much plant-sourced vitamin D is instead a less active form, called vitamin D2.
Getting adequate amounts of well sourced vitamin D can be vital for the nervous system, our muscle and bone health, and proper immune function. This is especially important to be mindful throughout the winter in Canada, when our vitamin D levels are more like to suffer due to limited sun exposure.
If you find that you struggle with your mood throughout the winter, check in with your healthcare provider. This may be a sign of vitamin D deficiency. They can then perform blood tests to confirm your serum vitamin D levels, and provide you with the proper treatment.
How To Increase Vitamin D
Vitamin D plays a role in so many bodily functions. Here are our top ten tips for supporting adequate vitamin D levels this winter.
1. Shop at your favourite health store to find one of the best vitamin D supplements in Canada – preferably free of fillers and stabilizers like gelatin. Make sure to determine and take the daily requirement based on your age and where you live. Vitamin D is best supplemented in its most active form, vitamin D3, and when taken in conjunction with vitamin A.
2. Supplement your diet with foods that are high in vitamin D. Fill your plate with mushrooms, eggs, and dark leafy greens, as well as getting in animal-sourced forms of vitamin D, if that’s within your dietary preferences.
3. Supplement with natural vitamin D3 found in fish oils or cod liver oil (1 teaspoon of cod liver oil contains 400 IU of vitamin D3).
4. Sit in front of artificial sunlight with at least 10,000 lux for 30-45 minutes every morning. These can be bought and placed on your desk.
5. Going for a walk outside in the winter without sunglasses for 10-30 minutes can support our natural circadian rhythm through regular daytime sun exposure even in the darker months.
6. Set regular hours, if possible, so that you are awake when the sun is up, and position yourself as close to a window as possible while you work.
7. By getting involved in an outdoor activity this winter, like skiing, skating, snowshoeing, or even building snowmen, you can enjoy more time spent outdoors even if it’s cold out.
8. Vitamin D and serotonin interact to produce feel-good neurotransmitters. When we’re vitamin D deficient, our mood can suffer, making the dark months of winter challenging. Support your mood this winter by supporting vitamin D, as well as serotonin, by continuing to engage in fun and social activities.
9. Start supplementing early (as early as August or September in Canada) and work preventatively. Get into a regular routine of vitamin D rich foods, gradually increase your supplemental dosage, and maintain a healthy, active lifestyle to encourage proper assimilation of nutrients.
10. Maintain your general health by getting a wide variety of vitamins and minerals from a nutrient dense, whole food diet.
Winter in Canada can be challenging, but by equipping yourself with knowledge and prevention tips, you can make the next several months much brighter and healthier!
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