Vitamin D3 or Sunshine?
By Holistic Bladder Care - Dr. Ashley Girard ND
I am often asked by patients, "don't I get enough Vitamin D from the sun"? The research says Canada as a population has some of the lowest levels of vitamin D in the world due to our higher latitude. If you are an adult that works indoors five days a week, get home to make dinner, do chores, and then go to bed, regardless of the weather outside. If you are planning on ditching your vitamin D this summer, think again… (read on).
Why is vitamin D so important? Nearly every cell in our body detects and responds to vitamin D. It helps bones grow and maintains their strength, especially in children, teenagers, and elderly individuals. It helps with fighting infections, boosting the immune system, improving mood and skin conditions like psoriasis, reducing the risk of heart disease, preventing diabetes, multiple sclerosis and up to 16 different types of cancers.
There is a rumour going around that we don’t need supplement vitamin D in the spring and summer because the sun is strong enough to meet our needs. This is partly true, but the reality is most of the population misses the peak times to soak up the sun. Research shows even in countries with year round sunshine vitamin D deficiency rate in teens can be around 20%, and 45% with insufficient levels. According to Statistics Canada at least 1 in 3 adults are deficient in Vitamin D, but the cut off value (50 nmol/L) used in Canada is considered too low by many researchers. Meaning the actual number of deficient adults is even higher.
Who is making enough? You may be getting enough vitamin D in the spring and summer if you fit the following description. A healthy light-skinned adult under the age of 50 spending 15 minutes outside between 12 and 3 pm with your hands, arms, legs, and head exposed to the sun without sunscreen applied. It is estimated that you would make 1000 IU of vitamin D each day if you fit into this category. That’s a lot of IF’s… We also know that due to UV damage from the sun it is important to lather up with sunscreen before heading outside, and this decreases your ability to make vitamin D by 90%. The experts say 15 minutes for most people will not result in a burn and is safe.
Can I get vitamin D from food? We can get vitamin D from fortified food sources such as milk or orange juice, or foods that contain it naturally like fatty fish, mushrooms, and eggs. These sources however do not supply nearly enough and should not be relied on to ensure adequate levels.
Is sunshine better than supplemented vitamin D? Yes, sunshine is the best and safest form of vitamin D. It cannot lead to high calcium levels whereas supplemented/fortified vitamin D can if taken in excess for long periods of time, however this is very rare. The reality is that the vast majority of people can't fit in 15 minutes each day between 12 and 3 pm and should consider continuing their vitamin D supplement. Also, there are individuals who cannot tolerate any sun exposure due to skin type, medical conditions, or because of certain medications and should consider vitamin D supplementation.
What are the risk factors for low vitamin D? Here are things you need to consider when deciding to continue or skip your daily vitamin D supplement.
Are you indoors for work or school during peak sunshine times?
Do you spend considerable amount of your leisure time in front of screens?
Do environmental allergies prevent you from spending much time outside?
Do you avoid dairy products or are lactose intolerant?
Do you have difficulty digesting fats due to gallbladder issues, and/or other digestive disturbances?
Do you have a darker complexion? It can take up to an hour or more at peak sunshine times to make enough vitamin D to meet your needs.
All infants, adults over 50, women of childbearing age, overweight/obese individuals, and/or people with a chronic diseases are at increased risk of having a vitamin D deficiency.
Sun sensitive skin types that burn quickly and require strict use of sunscreen.
Having certain medical conditions and using specific medications.
The reality is, most of us do not get enough vitamin D each day from sunshine alone. If you are concerned about your vitamin D levels, you can ask a Naturopathic Doctor or Medical Doctor to check your blood levels. Your healthcare provider will then be able to recommend an appropriate vitamin D dosage and duration considering your current level, risk factors, and lifestyle. Optimizing vitamin D levels is an excellent form of preventative medicine and improves overall health for everyone.
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Dieticians of Canada. Vitamin D: What you need to know. July 16, 2013. http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Vitamins/Vitamin-D--What-you-need-to-know.aspx.
Beck L. The Vitamin D Dilemma: How much should we be taking? The Globe and Mail, Mar 29 2015. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/the-vitamin-d-dilemma-how-much-should-we-be-taking/article23672033/
Vitamin D Counsel. How do I get the vitamin D my body needs? https://www.vitamindcouncil.org/about-vitamin-d/how-do-i-get-the-vitamin-d-my-body-needs/