You probably know that vitamin D plays an important role in the health of your teeth and bones. But did you know that it is now said to have even more properties? Unfortunately, not many foods contain vitamin D; the main ingredient your body needs to produce it is the sun. So what happens when our your sunshine is taken away?
Vitamin D: its well-known and lesser-known properties
Nowadays, the sun is getting a bad rap. But enjoying a nice sunny day is not only good for your mood… it’s great for loading up on vitamin D!
The vitamin that is known as the “sunshine vitamin” plays a vital role in the way calcium is used in the body, in muscle function and in cell growth. Studies also seem to show that vitamin D may be effective for preventing certain cancers, diabetes and illnesses of the immune system. Finally, vitamin D is said to play a role in protecting the body from heart disease. It is highly likely that, in the next few years, further studies will shed even more light on this vitamin’s health benefits.
Humans of all ages need a sufficient intake of calcium and vitamin D to maintain healthy bones. Until our late twenties, calcium and vitamin D help build bone mass and, later on in life, serve to preserve bone mass or prevent it from deteriorating. Osteoporosis is a disease that is characterized by the progressive weakening of bones, leading to increased risk of fractures. The best way to prevent osteoporosis is to make sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D throughout your life.
Where can you find vitamin D?
The main source of vitamin D is the sun. Indeed, exposing one’s hands, forearms and face without sunscreen for 10 to 15 minutes is said to be enough for a healthy adult to obtain an adequate amount of vitamin D. The frequency of exposure must be twice or three times a week, between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., between April and October. However, extended exposure to the sun can be associated with a higher risk of skin cancer, so be cautious.
The following people may need more exposure time, however:
- people with dark skin;
- people who get sun exposure before 11 a.m. or after 2 p.m.;
- people who use sunscreen;
- people who live in northern areas.
In addition, some foods are high in vitamin D, such as:
- salmon (grilled, poached or canned);
- grilled Bluefin tuna;
- cow’s milk;
- enriched soy and rice beverages;
- egg yolks.
What are your needs in vitamin D?
The amount of vitamin D needed in our diet varies with age. This amount is usually expressed in international units (IU):
- from 0 to 1 year old : 400 IU per day;
- from 1 to 70 years old : 600 IU per day;
- over 70 years old : 800 IU per day.
Several researchers believe that these quantities are insufficient and should be revised upwards.
According to current recommendations, to prevent osteoporosis, people under 50 years old should consume 400 to 1000 IU of vitamin D per day and those 50 years and over, 800 to 2000 IU. If you have osteoporosis, you should take a vitamin D supplement of 800 to 2000 IU per day.
On the other hand, during the fall and winter months, the sun's rays are weaker and Canadians spend more time indoors. Some people may therefore benefit from a vitamin D supplement of 1000 IU per day during this time. Talk to your pharmacist or doctor to determine if you would benefit from taking a daily supplement.
How to choose a supplement?
It is important to know that your body stores vitamin D for a few months. Indeed, it remains in body fat and the liver, and can be used later, when you need it. There are several types of supplements available in various forms (liquid, tablets, capsules, etc.), which can be taken daily, weekly or monthly.
Here are a few tips to help you choose the right supplement:
- Read labels carefully. Concentrations and amounts of vitamin D can vary greatly from one brand to another.
- Don’t consume excessive amounts of vitamin D. This can lead to adverse effects such as muscle weakness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, intense fatigue, weight loss, and muscle and joint pain.
Don’t hesitate to seek the advice of your pharmacist or doctor. They will help you determine the dose and formulation of vitamin D that suit you best. You can either purchase it over the counter or by prescription. Before you start taking a vitamin D supplement, see your doctor if you suffer from kidney stones or sarcoidosis. In addition, some diseases that require vitamin D as part of treatment, such as kidney failure, need to be followed closely.
Vitamin D is essential to your health; it is easy to meet your needs by getting exposure to the sun or by taking supplements. Make your teeth and bones happy by providing them with all the vitamin D they need. In return, they will stay healthy for many years to come!