We often hear that we need to take vitamin D daily, especially during the winter, but do you know why? Do you realise that you should be taken vitamin D daily, period? Did you know that vitamin D is actually more of a hormone than a vitamin? One reason being that vitamins aren’t made by the body, but vitamin D is – actually 90% of it is made by the body if exposed to enough sunlight. You’d think that’d be enough to ward off any vitamin D deficiency, but it’s not. There are so many factors that decrease our ability to make enough vitamin D such as too much sunscreen (SPF 15 prevents 99% of vitamin D production via skin), living in Edmonton (yes, you read that right, living in Edmonton drastically reduces your ability to produce vitamin D due to our high latitude – 90% of Edmonton children are vitamin D deficient!), urbanization (staying indoors and using vehicles instead of walking outdoors), aging (reduces your ability to make vitamin D by 75% by the age of 70), increased medication use (many medications reduce levels of vitamin D), obesity, poor food choices, etc (there are many more).
So what’s the big deal? Why should we care if we are become vitamin D deficient? Vitamin D is absolutely necessary for proper function. Vitamin D interacts with over 3000 genes and in order to exert its function it must bind to vitamin D receptors in the body – these receptors are found in countless tissues and cells throughout the body including pancreas cells, neurons, many immune cells, prostate cells, ovarian cells, pituitary cells, and cells in the aorta (part of the heart). Being that vitamin D can be used by so many cells it’s no wonder that it has multiple roles in maintaining optimal health. Vitamin D has been shown to reduce inflammation (major trigger of disease), suppress autoimmune disease, reduce the risk of cancer, and even reduce the severity and frequency of infectious disease. Some studies have even touted that our so-called cold and flu season is not due to higher amounts of those particular viruses in the environment but actually due to the seasonality of vitamin D deficiency. The reason being is that there are specific immune cells that can not exert their anti-viral action without sufficiency vitamin D levels in our blood! Meaning that no matter what you think you are doing to prevent infection from the cold and flu viruses, if you don’t have enough vitamin D, it really is all for not.
In addition, studies have also shown that if you keep your vitamin D levels at 125 nmol/L to can reduce your risk of all cancers, diabetes (both type 1 and 2), heart attack, multiple sclerosis, among many other chronic disease (most of these saw a risk reduction of 50%!). Sadly enough however, the average Canadian only has a level of 68 nmol/L – that’s only half of the amount needed to significantly reduce your risk of chronic disease. Now that’s pretty significant! While you might be tempted down an entire bottle of vitamin D – don’t! Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, if you take too much of it, your body won’t pee it out – meaning that taking too much can be toxic. Also note that because it is fat-soluble, vitamin D must be emulsified into a liquid form in order to be absorbed properly thus only supplement with liquid vitamin D or gel caps (which contain liquid vitamin D) otherwise your absorption rate is severely reduced.
So how do you know if you’re getting enough? The only way to find out for sure is via a blood test to determine your vitamin D levels. I now offer a blood test (using a finger prick) to determine vitamin D levels in order to ascertain whether you’re deficient, optimal, or toxic. Once we know, we’ll be better equipped to adjust your vitamin D dosage in order to ensure that we’re reducing your risk of future severe chronic disease all while increasing your current optimal health. Make sure you’re getting enough of this powerful vitamin!
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Dr. V is a Naturopathic Physician who graduated from the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine. Prior to her medical studies, she completed both a BSc and a MSc at the University of Alberta. She has a keen interest in chronic disease and environmental health. However, she loves receiving patients with all types of conditions (or even patients that want to optimize their health). Are you getting enough sleep?
By: Dr. Véronic Provencher MSc ND