Sunday 9 January 2011

Vitamin D: The sunshine vitamin

A few years ago, the newspapers were filled with articles that said all of us should be taking 2000 IU of vitamin D every day. Some said 1000 per day. My question was, "Why take it at all?"

New research had indicated that supplementing our diet with this vitamin could strengthen our bones, thwart different forms of cancer, stave off multiple sclerosis and autoimmune disorders and fight infections. This seemed a little fantastic. I had heard over the years that taking vitamin C could ward off colds; melatonin could improve your sleep and gawd knows what else. Was this more idle gossip or was there any fact to it?

Everybody may or may not know that the body can make vitamin D in the skin with exposure to sunlight, specifically ultraviolet light. This means a UV index of greater than 3 which would also includes tanning beds. Consequently, unlike other vitamins, vitamin D can be produced by the human body and it is therefore not a vitamin (vital food substance) except in those cases where people do not get sufficient UV light exposure.

A deficiency of vitamin D can cause, among other things, rickets, a bone disorder brought on by a deficiency of calcium. I always remember hearing about rickets in history class when I was a child and in fact, the disorder was first described in the 1600's. However it was apparently in the early part of the 20th century that the role of diet in the development was determined. All of us should note how vitamin D has been added to milk for years and is another contributing factor to our better health in the Western world.

1,000 IU
The Canadian Cancer Society states:
Vitamin D is needed for healthy bones and muscles, especially in children and the elderly. There is growing evidence that vitamin D may reduce the risk of some types of cancer, particularly colorectal and breast cancers. Experts are now concerned that many people are not getting enough vitamin D.

You can get vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, in your diet (especially if you eat foods fortified with vitamin D), or by taking vitamin supplements.

Vitamin D supplements
Due to our northern latitude and because the sun’s rays are weak in the fall and winter, we recommend that Canadian adults consider taking a vitamin D supplement. Talk to your doctor about taking 1000 international units (IU) a day during fall and winter months.

Babies who are exclusively breast-fed might be at risk of vitamin D deficiency, which is why experts recommend they be given a vitamin D supplement of 400IU a day. Get more information on supplementation for breast-fed babies from Health Canada.

Who’s at higher risk

You’re probably not getting enough vitamin D if you:
  • are over 50
  • have dark skin
  • don’t go outside very much
  • wear clothing covering most of your skin

If you are in one of these groups, talk to your doctor about whether you should take a vitamin D supplement of 1000IU every day, all year round.

Final Word
I recently had my annual physical which, by the way, I passed with flying colours. Not bad for a 58 year old man, eh? My doctor asked me about vitamin D and I told him I had been taking 1,000 IU per day for the past few years. No vitamin D-ficiency here! He was pleased and told me he would have recommended I do so. His blessing is certainly in line with what the Canadian Cancer Society is suggesting.

My research has led me to the conclusion that this is not idle gossip but is a recommendation backed up by empirical evidence. More research may lead to other conclusions down the road but for the moment, it can't hurt. I am going to continue to take my 1,000 IU every day and I would suggest that you follow suit. Good luck and good health.

"He who has health has hope, and he who has hope has everything."
Arabian Proverb


Wikipedia: Vitamin D

Canadian Cancer Society: Vitamin D

Canadian Cancer Society announces Vitamin D recommendation
June 2007
In consultation with their healthcare provider, the Society is recommending that:
  • Adults living in Canada should consider taking Vitamin D supplementation of 1,000 international units (IU) a day during the fall and winter.
  • Adults at higher risk of having lower Vitamin D levels should consider taking Vitamin D supplementation of 1,000 IU/day all year round. This includes people: who are older; with dark skin; who don’t go outside often, and who wear clothing that covers most of their skin.
“We’re recommending 1,000 IUs daily because the current evidence suggests this amount will help reduce cancer risk with the least potential for harm,” says Logan. “More research is needed to clearly define the amount of Vitamin D that will maximize health benefits.”

Logan explains that Canada’s geographic location was a strong factor in the Society’s decision making about the recommendation.

“Where a person lives is one important factor in how much Vitamin D they can produce from the sun. Because of our country’s northern latitude, the sun’s rays are weaker in the fall and winter and Canadians don’t produce enough Vitamin D from sunlight during this time.”


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