You may be surprised to learn that the sun is actually the best source of vitamin D, hence its nickname as the “sunshine vitamin.” People who live in areas that have long winters, with a lot of snow and not much sunshine are most susceptible to vitamin D deficiency. At MCFS, we routinely screen our patients for vitamin D deficiency and have seen a definite increase in deficiency this winter. This is not a surprise to us since we are experiencing one of the coldest, darkest, snowiest winters on record!
Over the past 15 years, researchers have discovered that vitamin D plays a sweeping role in many diverse aspects of our health. Research suggests vitamin D may provide protection from hypertension, diabetes, psoriasis, depression, several autoimmune diseases (including multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis). We know it helps to prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures, but there is growing evidence that it also plays an important role in immune functioning and defending against different cancers including breast, ovarian, prostate and colorectal.
So, it’s important to make sure you are not deficient in a vitamin that contributes so greatly to your overall well being. A simple blood test is all you need. Unfortunately, not all healthcare providers include this test as part of their routine screening, so don’t assume your levels are normal if you were told your blood work is ok.
Luckily, there are simple things we can do to prevent vitamin D deficiency:
- Sunshine: Our bodies naturally produce vitamin D when skin is exposed to sunlight. However sunscreen blocks the UVB rays necessary for synthesis. Experts recommend sun exposure without sunscreen for no more than 10-15 minutes. If you are sensitive to the sun and burn easily, keep the sunscreen and read on…
- Food: Consuming vitamin D fortified foods will also help but it’s very difficult to get adequate vitamin D from foods alone. Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines), cod liver oil, milk and eggs are great natural sources as well as fortified orange juice, cereals and margarine.
- Supplement: Researchers suggest that the easiest way to increase your vitamin D is by taking over the counter supplements. There has been great debate over the amount of vitamin D one can safely ingest and the consensus is 1,000-2,000 IU of Vitamin D3 daily is optimal.
If your vitamin D levels are significantly low, your healthcare practitioner may recommend prescription strength vitamin D for a short period of time (usually 1-3 months) to initially boost your level and then you can maintain that level with over the counter supplements.