The Importance of Vitamin D

Dr. Amanda Capasso

The Importance of Vitamin D

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Vitamin D, often called the “sunshine vitamin”, becomes a popular topic of conversation every few years often leaving the population wondering what it is and if they should be supplementing it. Vitamin D is unique because it is made in our skin after exposure to sunlight. Very few dietary sources contain vitamin D but those that do include wild fish, liver, eggs, and in Canada, milk and some cereals are fortified with vitamin D. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin meaning it gets stored in our liver and other fatty tissues and tends to stay there, making toxic levels possible. Being a fat-soluble vitamin also means that dietary sources of vitamin D (food or supplementation) are best absorbed when taken with fat.

Almost every cell in our body has a receptor for vitamin D which is why when levels are too low or too high a range of health conditions can arise. When vitamin D is too low it is linked to muscle and bone loss, low immunity, depression, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. Conversely, when vitamin D is too high it can lead to high levels of calcium in the blood, nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, stomach pains, diarrhea, constipation, and even kidney failure.

So when should you get tested? In Canada, we make zero vitamin D from the sunlight from the months of November to March. The sun just isn’t strong enough. Factor in the amount of time spent indoors at work and sunscreen use and most Canadians aren’t getting enough time in the sun to make adequate levels of vitamin D. In 2010, it was announced that OHIP would no longer be covering vitamin D testing unless you had specific medical conditions (kidney disease, osteoporosis, malabsorption, etc). They found testing to not be “medically necessary” as almost all Canadians were coming back deficient.

It is important to talk with your health care provider if vitamin D testing and supplementation is right for you. If you’ve been supplementing for years it’s important to get your levels tested to make sure you don’t have too much vitamin D. If you’ve never supplemented before it is important to get your levels tested to determine if vitamin D supplementation is required and what the appropriate dose is. Not all vitamin D supplements are equal; vitamin D that is emulsified in a fat is much better absorbed than vitamin D in capsule or pill form. A naturopathic doctor can requisition blood work to get your vitamin D levels tested for $35 and help you choose a quality vitamin D supplement if necessary.