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Vitamin D : more than just the sunshine vitamin

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Vitamin D, known as the “sunshine vitamin,” has been getting a lot of attention in recent years as research has shown its preventive role in the development of numerous diseases, including multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes in adults and children, and cancer. Vitamin D is important for a pregnant woman as well as breastfeeding to ensure baby receives adequate amounts.

Some schools of thought say that vitamin D is not, in fact, a vitamin but a steroid hormone produced by the body after exposure to sunlight. It’s difficult to get it from food and the average diet, no matter how healthy, comes no where near the recommended daily intake amount of 1,000 IU for Canadians.

Stored in the liver, vitamin D’s role includes promoting the absorption of calcium and phosphorous from the intestines and reabsorption of these bone-building minerals in the kidneys. Deficiency of vitamin D can cause rickets, a bone-softening condition that may lead to fractures and deformities in children. Researchers in Finland also found that children with rickets had an increased risk of type 1 diabetes (juvenile onset).

A Dose of Vitamin D and Safe Sun Exposure
In recent years, the association between exposure to sunlight and cancer has us applying sunscreen liberally on ourselves and our children, limiting the amount of vitamin D our bodies can generate by 95 percent. Although these recommendations are a safe way to avoid sunburn and other negative effects of UV rays, they can have detrimental effects on vitamin D levels.

Individuals at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency include those who are dark-skinned, wear clothing covering most of the body, use sunscreen daily, live in smoggy cities, or live at higher latitudes, especially in the winter months.

Vitamin D Sources:
Sunlight—For Canadians (living near the latitude of Toronto), 15 minutes of sun exposure to the face, forearms and hands between 11AM and 2PM 2-3 times a week is said to generate adequate vitamin D levels
Naturally occurring in foods—fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and herring; liver; and egg yolk
Fortified foods—milk and other dairy products, cereals, margarine, some juices, and alternative milks, such as almond, rice, and soy
Supplements––cod liver oil and D drops
Herb sources—alfalfa and nettle

The Best Form and testing for Vitamin D status?

Vitamin D3 is the most potent form of vitamin D. Vitamin D3 is labeled as cholecalciferol. Read the label of your supplement to ensure it’s a D3 source.

If you’re concerned about your vitamin D status, ask your doctor or naturopath for a 25-OH vitamin D blood test. While for Canadians the optimal level is said to be 50 nanograms per millilitre (ng/mL), some experts believe levels of 75 ng/ml are preferable.

If you energy is dropping, before you reach for sweets or take your moodiness out on your family, consider getting a lift from a little extra vitamin D. A walk in the sunshine could do your body, and your family, the world of good.

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