Vitamin D is Essential for Optimal Health

Vitamin D is Essential for Optimal Health

If you ask many Canadians why Vitamin D (VitD) is important for humans, they would likely think of bone health. You may be surprised to learn that Vitamin D plays an important role for many other aspects of human health. The importance of VitD is demonstrated by the presence of VitD receptors on nearly every cell type in our body, helping to regulate hundreds of cellular processes required for good health. For this reason, it is not surprising that low VitD levels are strongly associated with a broad spectrum of diseases.

Led by Dr. Kanji Nakatsu, PhD, scientists at the CCCA have written a paper detailing the role of vitamin D for optimizing the health of Canadians. They encourage Candians to use this information as part of  a health and wellness maintenance approach for their healthcare. 

Multiple studies have demonstrated that Canadians have insufficient levels of VitD to meet their health requirements.  A paper published in 2010, “Addressing vitamin D deficiency in Canada: A public health innovation whose time has come,” concluded that 70-97% of Canadians were vitamin D insufficient, and 14-60% were deficient. Many clinicians and scientists have raised their concerns for sufficiency as a preventative public health measure.

Why are Canadians at risk for Vitamin D deficiency?

VitD is called the sunshine vitamin because exposure of our skin to the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays stimulates the production of Vitamin D3. However, many Canadians don’t  get enough exposure to adequate amounts of sunshine. Our geographical location limits the amount of ultraviolet light exposure during the winter months. We also wear clothes that cover most of our body in the winter, and spend more time indoors. In the warmer seasons, we cover our exposed skin with sunscreen, blocking the ultraviolet rays of the sun from our skin. Other factors that impact one’s vitamin D production include genetics, skin pigmentation, air pollutants, and age. For these reasons, it is best to individualize the approach to VitD health.

In Canada, the daily recommended dose of VitD is based on the requirements for maintenance of bone health. While Health Canada’s suggested daily dose for bone health ranges from 400 to 800 IU/day, many researchers, doctors, and health associations advocate much higher daily doses as to meet the requirements for Vitamin D’s other important bodily functions.

Safety and Vitamin D Dosing

Vitamin D is fat-soluble, so there’s a concern that it could accumulate in the human body to induce a toxic reaction. Despite this possibility,  adverse reactions among those taking VitD supplements have been remarkably rare. The body also employs an enzyme catalyst to defend itself against VitD toxicity. Researchers have found that in summer and spring, with 22% of uncovered skin, 1,000 IU vitamin D doses are synthesized in 10-15 minutes of sun exposure for adults, or about 4,000-6,000 IU/h. A more extended day in the sun may result in a dose of vitamin D of 20,000 to 25,000 IU.  A number of studies have evaluated higher dose ranges for vitamin D supplementation, without any concerns of toxicity.

In summary, a daily dose of 4,000-6,000 IU should be safe for the population and fulfill much of our  human health needs. This is well above the 400-800 IU/d recommended by Health Canada.

Vitamin D Testing.

A critical factor in implementing a national VitD sufficiency program would be universal access to VitD testing. Midsummer and midwinter may be appropriate times to determine maximum and minimum levels. 

VitD testing costs range from $32 to $93 across Canada. With some ingenuity and economies of scale, the price should fall to the $10/test range or less. Testing is not covered by all provincial health plans. Considering the positive health impact of adequate vitamin D levels, testing is a health investment that would pay for itself. 

Other important nutrients.

A first principle in the field of  nutrition is that proper or optimal nutrition is the result of all of the individual nutrient components working and acting together. Two nutrients that complement VitD’s action are vitamin K2 and magnesium, so again an  individualized approach to vitamin D management is best.

Health Benefits of Adequate Vitamin D Levels:  

The health of Canadians and our healthcare system would be far better off today if optimizing levels of VitD had been promoted. VitD deficiency may exacerbate many chronic diseases, adding to the economic and resource strain on the healthcare system and the health burden of Canadians. The annual savings to healthcare costs could exceed $23 billion (~6-7% of total healthcare spending in Canada for 2023, estimated to be $344 billion).

The literature on VitD amply supports  the potential health benefits of VitD sufficiency. Some diseases impacted by vitamin D levels include: 

  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Brain Diseases
  • Immune System Resilience
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Mental Health
  • Oral Health

For details and additional considerations, please refer to the more detailed document and the supplemental appendix and visit this website: AreYouGettingEnough.info

Call To Action:

Canadians can significantly improve our collective health and save our country billions of healthcare dollars annually by paying attention to our vitamin D sufficiency. 

  • Consider whether you are vitamin D sufficient or if supplementary vitamin D is advisable for you, your family and your friends.
  • Discuss vitamin D testing and sufficiency with your doctor, nurse or other healthcare providers.
  • Contact the following with your vitamin D concerns: your local public health officer, provincial public health officer, provincial MP/MLA, federal MP, and any others who would benefit from learning  about the public health benefits of vitamin D.
  • Request that vitamin D testing be covered by provincial health plans to help citizens achieve appropriate levels  of vitamin D.

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