Friday, February 6, 2009

Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin (and So Much More)

We've all heard something or another about vitamin D, but what's the story? In truth, if there's one supplement we should all be taking during these winter months, it's vitamin D. You see, vitamin D is normally produced through by regular sun exposure - all it really takes is about 15 minutes of sticking your arm out the window in order for your body to absorb UVB rays and produce vitamin D on it's own. The problem we're facing here as Canadians is that for about six months of the year, there simply is not enough sunlight (or skin exposure) for us to be able to produce adequate amounts of the "sunshine vitamin".

OK, now you know that you probably aren't getting enough vitamin D at the moment, but what does that matter to you? Vitamin D helps the body use calcium and phosphorous to build and maintain strong bones and teeth. Without adequate levels of the vitamin, calcium and phosphorous can start to leach out, leading to weakening bones and teeth and can even lead to osteoporosis in older adults. Vitamin D has also been touted to protect against many diseases and ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, certain types of cancers, support a healthy immune system, ward off infections and so much more!

To cap things, new research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism suggests that teenage girls with higher levels of vitamin D may be able to jump higher, faster, with more power and force than their peers - a muscular advantage! As well - today new research has been announced which has found a link between vitamin D deficiency and the risk of developing MS in those who may be genetically predisposed to the disease by affecting certain genes.

According to 1997 guidelines, the average Canadian should consume 200IU of vitamin D per day and double or triple that if they are over the age of 50. The highest safe level is 2000IU. Now, you might be thinking that 1997 was an awfully long time ago from a research perspective and you are absolutely correct. Since these findings were published, there have been literally thousands of additional studies which are pointing more and more to the fact that adults should actually be consuming 1000IU per day, especially in the winter. The Canadian Cancer Society is one of the biggest proponents of this recommendation.

Maybe you think you can get all of your vitamin D from food? Good Luck! I don't know about you, but I can't exactly drink 2.5 litres or ten cups of milk every day (not to mention older adults!!). Vitamin D supplements are safe, inexpensive and very convenient to take.

So, in the words of Dr. Paul O'Connor, director of the MS program at U of T and scientific and clinical advisor for the MS Society of Canada - "I think every Canadian should make sure they're taking enough vitamin D". Agreed!