At Eyes Focused on you, our primary goal is to provide our patients with the information and assistance they need to take charge of their health and the health of their families. When you take a holistic approach to health, you understand that food fuels our entire body. When nutrition is optimal then health also should benefit. Food should give us most of what we need but sometimes we also need to supplement. A good understanding of why vitamin D is important to our health, how much vitamin D we need, and how we can get vitamin D, will help you make good food and lifestyle choices.
Why do we need vitamin D to be healthy?
Vitamin D enables the body to absorb calcium and phosphorous through our digestive system. This is vital to building and maintaining strong bones. Vitamin D is also important for healthy muscles, nerves, and our immune system. It may also play a role in preventing chronic disease and cancer, but this is still being investigated.
Severe vitamin D deficiency over a long period of time can cause osteomalacia (rickets), a softening of the bones, which can cause skeletal deformities in children such as bowed legs and knock knees. A lack of vitamin D can also cause a condition called osteoporosis, usually seen in older adults, in which bones become thin and brittle and more susceptible to fracture. As well, numerous studies have linked Vitamin D deficiency to tooth decay.
What foods provide vitamin D?
The major sources of vitamin D in Canada's food supply are fortified foods, which means vitamin D has been added. This is because the only sources of naturally occurring vitamin D are egg yolks and oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, tuna and mackerel. Cow's milk and margarine in Canada must be fortified with vitamin D, and some yoghurts and cheeses are made with vitamin D-fortified milk. Also, some calcium-fortified orange juices, non-dairy milk alternatives and breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin D, so always check the ingredients label. (Check out this delicious Salmon rub recipe by Registered Dietician Aimee Hayes)
Getting enough vitamin D from diet alone can be a challenge. Fortunately, a vitamin D supplement, or a multi-vitamin that includes vitamin D, can help replace what our diet may be lacking.
Vitamin D from sunlight -- is it safe?
Vitamin D is often referred to as the "sunshine vitamin" and for good reason. It's unique among vitamins in that it can be produced by the body after our bare skin -- with no sunscreen on -- is exposed to the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays in sunlight. It's not known exactly how much time is needed in the sun to make enough vitamin D, but the amount of skin exposed and whether it's fair or dark are contributing factors.
"Some health care professionals believe that if you live in Canada you are likely to be deficient in vitamin D," says Dr. Dr. Hillary Webster, ND, of the Eyes Focused on You, BETTER TOGETHER health care team. "Canada’s northern latitude means it's not possible to get enough vitamin D from sunlight year round. This makes it very important that enough vitamin D is acquired through food, and a vitamin D supplement, if necessary."
Another factor to consider when attempting to get vitamin D from sunlight is that exposing skin to the sun can have has serious consequences because the longer we stay in the sun, particularly with unprotected skin, the greater the risk of skin cancer.
Vitamin D deficiency and Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder (ADHD)
ADHD is a common disorder of childhood. Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention and controlling impulsive behaviour and be overly active. ADHD has been steadily increasing in prevalence. In recent years, researchers have begun exploring the possible role that environmental and nutritional factors play in developmental disorders such as ADHD.
A study conducted in Qatar between 2011 and 2013 of 1,331 children with ADHD, and 1,331 without ADHD, found that vitamin D deficiency was more prevalent in children with ADHD than those without it. However, it's important to understand that these results do not prove that a deficiency of vitamin D causes ADHD, rather that an association between the two was found.
Are you getting enough vitamin D?
At Eyes Focused on You, we take a BETTER TOGETHER approach to our patients' health care because patient wellness can be enhanced when health care providers work together. To be sure you are getting enough vitamin D, consult a registered dietitian or a naturopath who can assess your individual needs and advise you. Easy steps you can take to help protect the health of your family are to choose vitamin D-fortified foods and take a vitamin D supplement as recommended by your health care professional. If you do choose to get a little vitamin D from sunshine, be sure to limit your exposure to short periods of time only and always wear sunglasses with 100% UVA and UVB protection.