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Don’t Be in the Dark About Vitamin D
The long, dark days of winter put us at risk for having insufficient vitamin D levels, since most of us get our vitamin D from sun exposure. With vitamin D playing such an important role in many aspects of our health, it’s important we get the recommended daily dose.
According to Statistics Canada, about 40% of Canadians have blood levels of Vitamin D below the recommended cut-off level in winter, compared with 25% in the summer (Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 82-624-X, Janz and Pearson).
Cutting-edge nutritional research has shown many issues that have been associated with having an insufficient intake of vitamin D. Deficiency of the sunshine vitamin may cause or worsen bone issues such as osteopenia and osteoporosis. Low levels have also been linked to muscle weakness, risk of falls, and bone fractures.
It’s well-known that vitamin D is critical to our teeth and bone health. Together with other nutrients and hormones, vitamin D supports healthy bone renewal. It’s important to remember that bone health is dependent on a dynamic process of remodeling. Most people think of calcium when they think of strong bones, but vitamin D is crucial as well.
When vitamin D levels are deficient, the result is rickets in children and osteomalacia or osteoporosis, meaning soft or porous bones, in adults. We must have a serum level of at least 75 nmol/liter to govern the process of bone remodeling. But our bone health is only one of the benefits of getting adequate vitamin D. Low levels have also been linked to a higher risk of common cancers, autoimmune diseases, infection diseases, and cardiovascular diseases.
A Harvard School of Public Health study reported a link between vitamin D levels and heart attack risk. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that doubling blood levels of vitamin D was associated with cutting the risk of a heart attack in half. Vitamin D has been linked to a wide range of other cardiovascular benefits also, including a reduced risk of peripheral arterial disease (PAD) and a reduced stroke risk.
Low vitamin D levels have been linked to an increased risk of death, no matter the cause. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, NHANES III, examined vitamin D status and all-cause mortality and found that individuals who were in the lowest quartile of vitamin D status were 26% more likely to die.
Although a consensus regarding the optimal level of serum 25(OH)D has not yet been established, most experts define vitamin D deficiency as a 25(OH)D level of < 50 nmol/liter and vitamin D insufficiency as 51-79 nmol/liter. For all studied end points to date, the optimal concentration of 25(OH)D is at least 80 nmol/liter. If testing your level isn’t convenient, maintaining adequate levels typically requires an intake of at least 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily.
For those not receiving enough vitamin D3 through their diet, a supplement may be a great option. Supplements are available in soft gel and liquid form.
1. Edward Giovannucci, MD, ScD; Yan Liu, MS; Bruce W. Hollis, MD, PhD; Eric B. Rimm, ScD; Arch Intern Med. 2008;168(11):1174-1180. 5-Hydroxyvitamin D and Risk of Myocardial Infarction in Men
2. Michal L. Melamed; Paul Muntner; Erin D. Michos; Jaime Uribarri; Collin Weber; Jyotirmay Sharma; Paolo Raggi; Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Levels and the Prevalence of Peripheral Arterial Disease Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. 2008;28:1179
3. Michal L. Melamed, MD, MHS; Erin D. Michos, MD, MHS; Wendy Post, MD, MS; Brad Astor, PhD 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Levels and the Risk of Mortality in the General Population Arch Intern Med. 2008;168(15):1629-1637.
4. L.M. Hall, M.G. Kimlin, P.A. Aronov, B.D. Hammock, J.R. Slusser, L.R. Woodhouse, C.B. Stephensen. Journal of Nutrition Vol. 140, No. 3, 542-550, March 2010. "Vitamin D Intake Needed to Maintain Target Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Concentrations … Substantially Higher Than Current Recommendations."