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Vitamin D

Doug Cook , RD, MHSc, CDE

Vitamin D has long been known as the sunshine vitamin because it is produced on the skin through the action of sunlight. However, because it's the UVB that is responsible for vitamin D production, anyone living in Canada is unable to produce it from mid-October until mid-April because of insufficient UVB rays during the fall and winter months.

A review published in the July, 2006 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition determined that in order to achieve the optimal blood levels of vitamin D, it would be necessary to consume at least 1000 international units of vitamin D per day from all sources to elevate blood levels to 75 nanomoles per liter, the minimum level that research has found to be advantageous for helping to preserve normal bone mineral density, and aiding in the prevention of periodontal disease, falls, fractures, and colorectal cancer.

Although there is a lot of evidence for vitamin D in preventing other diseases such as multiple sclerosis, tuberculosis, insulin resistance and diabetes, osteoarthritis, hypertension, and cancers other than colorectal cancer, the authors did not include these diseases in the current review at this time because the evidence is still emerging.

They concluded that the most desirable serum levels of vitamin D began at 75 nanomoles per liter, and optimal levels are between 90 and 100 nanomoles per liter. These levels cannot be reached by most individuals with the current recommended intakes of 200 international units per day for younger adults and 600 international units per day for older adults.

Anecdotally, I've been supplementing with about 800IU of vitamin D daily and regularly get sources of vitamin D fortified foods such as milk, canned salmon with bones, yogurt and occasional soy beverage and have had my vitamin D levels checked - it was 85 nanomoles, just above the lower end of ideal for chronic disease protection. Of course everyone is different and others getting the same amount may absorb vitamin D differently and therefore may have either lower or higher levels themselves. The goal is however to aim for 1000IU from all sources: food and supplements.

Most multivitamins have 400IU, and individual vitamin D supplements are usually sold as 400IU or 1000IU. Taking the multi only during the summer months is fine if you manage to get about 10-15mins of sun exposure 4-5 days per week but the amount found in a typical multivitamin is not enough for the fall/winter, it would be prudent to get a separate vitamin D with 400IU and aim to get 1-2 glasses of milk per day, and oily fish such as salmon or sardines 3 times per week. There is some vitamin D in margarine and some yogurts are now made with milk fortified with vitamin D - check the label. If none of that appeals to you, take a supplement with 1000IU instead everyday from October to April.


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