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The Winter Deficiency: Vitamin D

Well it’s that time of year again. The days are getting shorter, the temperatures are dipping lower and before we know it, it’ll be winter. For most of us, that means spending less time outside in the cold and more time inside where it’s warm and cozy. Vitamin D (also known as the sunshine vitamin) does not get much attention this time of year. Vitamin D is naturally produced in your body when exposed to sunlight. However, Canadians cannot make vitamin D from sunlight during the winter months! Around mid-October, the angle of the sun changes such that no matter how sunny our days are, your body is unable to make vitamin D. This lasts until March and means that most people are low in vitamin D (and may not know it) for at least half the year.

Studies have shown that vitamin D deficiencies can lead to a slew of health problems and contribute to chronic disorders, including osteoporosis, depression, obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Deficiencies have also been associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This time of year is also flu season; vitamin D can also help boost your immune system. Winter time can be taxing on our mental and physical strength as it is and adding a vitamin D deficiency does not help the situation. So how is it possible to get vitamin D in the winter?

Research has shown that average northern diets have 10 times less vitamin A and D than typical tropical diets. Most of our vitamin D comes from fortified foods such as yogurt, margarine, and milk. The only natural sources of vitamin D come from fatty fish such as salmon, and some low amounts are found in eggs and beef. Meeting the daily requirement is very difficult with diet alone especially if you are vegetarian or vegan. This is where supplements might be recommended. Health Canada recommends 600 international units (IU) per day up to the age of 70 and 800 IU per day over 70 for healthy individuals. If you have any of the above disorders a different amount may be recommended. Please remember that EVERY INDIVIDUAL IS DIFFERENT so to ensure you are getting enough vitamin D, discuss with your health care provider what would be best to complement your diet, age, lifestyle, and overall health.

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