Dr. Kim Foster: Wicked Health


Is Vitamin D Important?

Hype or good sense?

Are you getting enough vitamin D? Probably not.

Would you feel any symptoms if you had low levels? Nope.

Does it matter? Big. Fat. Yes.

Why is vitamin D important?

We used to think vitamin D was only crucial for healthy bones. But there’s a growing body of research suggesting vitamin D plays a significant role in many diverse disease processes. Seems this is one little vitamin with big dreams. And it’s turning up in all sorts of unexpected places, making itself useful at the party (mingling, mixing martinis for people, doing the dishes after the guests leave…)

Studies have shown that people with Vitamin D deficiency have a higher risk of cancer—particularly colon cancer, but there’s growing evidence for breast cancer risk and others.

Also, it seems adults with low levels of vitamin D have increased risks of heart disease—specifically heart attacks and hypertension.

But wait, there’s more. Vitamin D also appears to play a role in preventing depression. Early research has also linked vitamin D with reduced risk of autoimmune disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis. And, wait for it...obesity.

How do you know if you’re getting enough vitamin D?

Truth is, most of us don’t get enough vitamin D. Vitamin D is called the “sunshine vitamin” because it’s manufactured in our skin with sunlight exposure. And here in Canada, sunlight is not something we receive in excess. Especially in winter months. Or in summer months, to be honest, particularly if you’re like me, slathering on sunblock like it's my job.

The good news is that a simple blood test can check your level of vitamin D. I’ve been doing this a lot for patients lately and am stunned at how many people—ahem, me included!—are walking around deficient without realizing it.

So...what can you do to increase your vitamin D?

You could increase your sunlight exposure but...skin cancer, anyone? Wrinkles? No thank you. A better approach: oral vitamin D, through diet or supplements.

Food sources of vitamin D include fortified dairy and breakfast cereals, eggs (specifically, the yolk) and fatty fish like salmon, herring and sardines.

However, it’s rather challenging to get sufficient amounts in food. Particularly if you’re deficient, you’re probably not going to meet your needs through food alone. This is where supplementation comes in.

You may remember the public health nurse advising vitamin D drops for your newborn babe. 400 IU is the recommended daily amount for infants and kids.

But for adults? Well, this is where things get a little trickier, as recommendations keep changing as we do more research. Official recommendations from the Institute of Medicine look a little like this: 600 IU for people up to age 70, 800 IU for people over 70. But many health care providers (me included) advise more than that, at least 1000 IU daily.

Like this easy way to take your health up a notch? Read this next. And then this.