Sunshine vitamin? Not in the winter months
A recently released report by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) in the United Kingdom is urging all Brits to take vitamin D supplements, which according to the Vitamin D Society of Canada, should give Canadians a reason to start looking at their own vitamin D intake levels.
Much like the UK, Canada shares the same sunshine limitations, which means because of the northern latitude of both countries, vitamin D producing sunlight can only be captured by our skin between the months of May and October. This leaves Canadians and Brits in the cold and with declining vitamin D levels in the fall and winter.
The downside of low vitamin D levels means that bones can become thin and brittle because vitamin D plays an important role in regulating the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body – making it essential for bone health and more.
“Without having a recommended intake in the UK it was not possible to evaluate vitamin D status or vitamin D intakes there, but now with the decision of SACN to finally put these forward, we can see in the UK, intakes are low and status is one of the poorest,” says Dr. Susan Whiting, Scientific Advisor for the Vitamin D Society and professor at the University of Saskatchewan. “Both countries share similar latitudes, similar dietary habits and distribution of people of European and non-European ancestry. Modest fortification with vitamin D in Canada has prevented us from having so much severe vitamin D deficiency as is the situation in the UK right now. But diet alone in neither country can allow us to achieve optimal vitamin D status especially in winter months.”
Statistics Canada reports that up to 12 million Canadians — 35% of us — do not meet vitamin D blood level requirements. That number rises to more than 40% in the winter.
The summer sun allows most Canadians and Brits to naturally generate adequate levels of vitamin D, but according to the Vitamin D Society, come winter, that won’t be possible. The northern latitude of our countries physically prevents vitamin D generating sunlight to reach us. The solution to keeping levels normal in the winter, however, is from vitamin D supplements or artificial UVB exposure.
“While vitamin D supplements will help provide benefits in the winter months, fortified foods, which are sometimes relied upon to provide vitamin D, do not actually provide enough vitamin D in the winter.” says Dr. Whiting “For now, the best way to get ready for winter is to enjoy the sun safely and get the summer sunlight while it’s here. But for those who remain indoors or are otherwise prevented from sun exposure in summer, a supplement all year long might be the answer.”
The Vitamin D Society encourages Canadians to use their time in the midday summer sun wisely to stock up on the sunshine vitamin but to remember to use common sense and not let skin burn.
To learn more about vitamin D, please visit www.vitamindsociety.org.
The Vitamin D Society is a Canadian non-profit group organized to increase awareness of the many health conditions strongly linked to vitamin D deficiency; encourage people to be proactive in protecting their health and have their vitamin D levels tested annually; and help fund valuable vitamin D research. The Vitamin D Society recommends people achieve and maintain optimal 25(OH)D blood levels between 100 – 150 nmol/L (Can) or 40-60 ng/ml (USA).