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3 best ways to get vitamin D this winter

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that helps the body to absorb calcium and phosphorous, which are necessary for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. The body produces vitamin D upon exposure to ultraviolet rays from sunlight, but what are some of the other best ways to get vitamin D?

People with very little vitamin D in the body have decreased blood phosphorous and calcium levels. Low calcium levels make the body obtain calcium from the bones in order to maintain healthy levels. This leads to an increased risk of having thin and brittle bones, which can lead to rickets in children or osteoporosis in adults.

It is very important to get enough of this vitamin in order to keep the bones strong and to protect them against possible fractures. Our body also needs it to help the muscles absorb calcium. If muscles don’t get enough calcium, it results in muscle cramps and weakness.

Measurement of vitamin D in the body

Levels are measured by a simple laboratory blood test. The test results provide numbers in nmol/L (nanomoles per litre). These numbers will fall into a range that will provide information on whether you are deficient, somewhat lacking (insufficient), or have sufficient vitamin D levels. Most experts agree that levels above 75 nmol/L are sufficient.

According to Health Canada, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) per day for different age groups is as follows:

Age group

RDA per day

Infants 0-6 months

400 IU (10 mcg)

Infants 7-12 months

400 IU (10 mcg)

Children 1-3 years

600 IU (15 mcg)

Children 4-8 years

600 IU (15 mcg)

Children and Adults
9-70 years

600 IU (15 mcg)

Adults > 70 years

800 IU (20 mcg)

Pregnancy & Lactation

600 IU (15 mcg)

What are the best ways to get enough of this critical vitamin?

1. Spend time in the sun

Sun exposure is the most important source for vitamin D. This is why it is also called the sunshine vitamin. In Canada, vitamin D from sun exposure can only be synthesized in bare skin during late spring, summer, and the early fall months, from around 10 am-2 pm. During these times, the UV index is above 3.

The amount of time to be spent in sunlight to make sufficient amounts depends on factors such as clothing coverage, use of sunscreen, skin pigmentation, and age. Usually, normal sun exposure during the right time of the year (5-15 minutes around midday, many times a week, without using sunscreen) is thought to be sufficient to produce enough.

During winter, most individuals living in Canada and the northern United States are not able to get enough of this vitamin from the sun between the months of March and November. However, individuals should spend even small amounts of time outside whenever the sky is clear and the sun is shining.  Planning vacations to warmer areas can also help, albeit temporarily. The best way to get enough during winters is to rely on diet and supplements.

2. Eat the right food

Vitamin D can be naturally found in foods such as fatty fish (e.g. salmon, tuna, mackerel), fish liver oil, beef/pork liver, egg yolks, some cheeses, and mushrooms. In Canada, certain foods are enriched with vitamin D, such as milk, margarine, infant formula, orange juice, yogurt, soy drinks, and breakfast cereals. However, the quantity present in the food is very small and diet alone is not sufficient to maintain adequate levels for most people.

3. Take supplements

Dietary supplements are the major source of vitamin D and are considered the best way to get vitamin D, especially during the winter seasons in Canada when sunlight exposure is relatively quite low. Supplements are measured in international units (IU) and are sold commonly in bottles of 400 IU, 500 U, 600 IU or 1000 IU.

Multivitamins also contain vitamin D between 200-600 IU. Some groups of the population are at a greater risk of not getting enough as compared to others. These groups of the population include all babies from birth until the age of one year, all children from one to four years of age, and people who do not get enough exposure to sunlight.

If you are deficient in this vitamin, the best treatment is with supplements. Ask your healthcare provider how much vitamin D you need to take, how often, and how long you need to take them.

So what can we do to get enough of this crucial vitamin all year round?

Here are three simple suggestions:

  • Get 15 minutes of sun exposure every day in the late spring, summer, and early fall
  • Eat two servings of fatty fish, every week from November to March
  • If you are a vegetarian, drinking vitamin D fortified milk may be helpful from November to March

Written by Pratibha Duggal

References:

  1. Vitamin D and Calcium: Updated Dietary Reference Intakes – Canada.cahttps://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/vitamins-minerals/vitamin-calcium-updated-dietary-reference-intakes-nutrition.html#a9
  2. Getting Enough Calcium and Vitamin D. https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/za1487
  3. Vitamin D Deficiency: MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/vitaminddeficiency.html
  4. How to get vitamin D from sunlight. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/how-to-get-vitamin-d-from-sunlight/#how-do-we-get-vitamin-d
Pratibha Duggal
Pratibha Duggal
Pratibha Duggal has a post-graduate degree in pharmaceutical chemistry. She is currently pursuing a post-graduate diploma in clinical research, pharmacovigilance, and regulatory affairs from the Academy of Applied Pharmaceutical Sciences in Toronto, Canada. She started her career as a pharmacovigilance scientist and is an expert on drug safety. She recently switched careers to become a medical writer and now has more than three years of experience in this field. She enjoys being a part of the Medical News Bulletin team and contributing to educating readers about the latest research in the medical field.
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