Understanding Vitamin D and Testing for Healthy Levels:
BY: DR. JATISH KALER
With the shortened fall days and long winter months ahead, it’s time we all consider our Vitamin D levels and how best to supplement with the “sunshine vitamin.”
Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin
During the summer as Canadians, our major production of vitamin D starts inside our skin when it is exposed to ultraviolet B radiation from sun. Because of our northern latitudes, during the winter months we produce virtually zero vitamin D through our skin. Instead in the winter, our bodies rely on the vitamin D made and stored throughout the summer or that we consume through diet and supplements.
Vitamin D has long been recognized as an essential component of healthy teeth and bones. Emerging research is beginning to uncover more connections between vitamin D and human health. Vitamin D plays a key role in balancing the body’s immune system and may play a role in preventing infections and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Treating vitamin D deficiency can alleviate symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and depression.
Vitamin D shows promise in the treatment of certain pain conditions including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and restless leg syndrome. Vitamin D has also been used to improved muscle strength and balance and to prevent falls and fractures in the elderly. Finally, there are population studies that have shown an association between higher levels of vitamin D and a decreased incidence of diabetes, heart disease and cancers of the breast, prostate and colon.
The fact is, that by the end of winter, many Canadians are deficient in vitamin D because we did not make and store enough from the sun during our short summer months and we do not supplement enough or not at all. According to Statistics Canada, approximately 40% of all Canadians test below the recommended Vitamin D levels during the winter and during the summer, 25% of the Canadian population still does not meet the recommended cut-off.
Risk factors such as higher northern latitudes, darker skin pigmentation, sunscreen use, minimal outdoor summertime sun exposure, excess cloud and smog cover and excess body weight can all decrease our body’s level of vitamin D. Medications including anticonvulsants, steroids and statins can have a negative impact on vitamin D status.
Testing and Supplementing with Vitamin D:
At the Advanced Naturopathic Medical Centre we often provide patients with an at-home vitamin D test kit. It involves a virtually painless prick of the finger and the dotting of a test card with 6-9 drops of blood. You then simply label the specimen, seal it in a plastic bag and send it off to the lab in a prepaid envelope. 7-10 days later your naturopathic doctor will have your results and you can then together sit down and interpret the results and how best to supplement with vitamin D if necessary.
In terms of targeting the right level of vitamin D in the blood, again depending on the health needs and goals of my patient, I will often attempt to achieve a level between 60-100 nmol/L of 25-hydroxy vitamin D in myself and my patients.
At the end of the day, there are numerous factors that will influence your vitamin D needs and having an informed discussion with your family doctor, nurse practitioner or naturopathic doctor is the best way to find out how much vitamin D supplementation is right for you and what blood level of 25-hydroxy vitamin D to target.
Any of our doctors at the Advanced Naturopathic Medical Centre would be happy to help you in determining your vitamin D needs through testing, analysis and supplementation.