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The Holistic Benefits of Vitamin D

By N.D., Nastasia Irons

With the winter months in full swing, many North Americans are spending as little time outside as possible. With our sun exposure at an all-time low, it's no wonder many of us face Vitamin D deficiencies. The "Sunshine Vitamin" plays a vital role in our holistic health; not only does it influence our mood health and skin health, but it is also a key player in our autoimmune health, helping us fight off the cold, flu, and even various cancers. How do you know if you are Vitamin D deficient, and how can you begin to naturally incorporate it into your diet? We sat down with our Naturopathic Doctor, Nastasia Irons, to find out.

Why is it called the sunshine vitamin?

Your body will naturally produce Vitamin D in response to sun exposure. In order to convert the vitamin from the sun to a usable source of Vitamin D, we need healthy kidneys and liver function. One of the biggest problems Canadians face is that we don’t get enough exposure to the sun, especially during the winter months. We are also conditioned to be fearful of the sun’s rays – so the minute summertime hits, we slather up our skin with sunscreen before leaving the house – which also blocks Vitamin D absorption.

How much Vitamin D do we need?

If you spend time in the sun, you can absorb Vitamin D instantly. All your body needs is roughly 20 minutes on the surface of your palms, and you can produce over 10000 IU of Vitamin D. But the sun isn't as strong in the winter months, and we can spend days (even weeks) without seeing it at all!

Why is this bad?

Vitamin D is a vitamin that is responsible for a lot of things in our body. First of all: we need it to keep our immune system healthy and our bones strong. Without it, we simply can’t absorb calcium, which can lead to weak bones and teeth, and can put us at risk of many diseases. There is a direct association between low levels of Vitamin D, North America, and a higher incidence of autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, various cancers, and heart disease. One study even found that higher levels of Vitamin D reduce your likelihood of developing the flu.

What about Vitamin D and sadness?

Research has shown that Vitamin D plays an important role in mood health. Deficiency in Vitamin D is linked to depression, and research shows that taking Vitamin D in a supplement form can directly improve mood in people suffering from depression and anxiety. Making sure you get adequate amounts of Vitamin D in the winter time can also help reduce SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – which is a change in mood associated with increased darkness and low light exposure.

What about Vitamin D and skin?

Research shows that Vitamin D plays a critical role in skin health. It helps reduce inflammation and controls oil gland stimulation. Without it, there is a higher likelihood of experiencing inflammatory oil production leading to large cystic acne and more infections on the skin. Getting adequate exposure to sunlight also helps reduce acne, which is one of the reasons why your skin gets really nice when you are on vacation! (Reducing stress is also important – next blog topic!)

So how can I get more Vitamin D?

One thing to note is that Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin. It needs to be eaten with fat in order to be absorbed, but it is also stored in our body’s fat cells. Which means we don’t pee it out like other vitamins. So in order to avoid toxicity, we need to monitor our intake and our blood levels – something you can talk about with your Naturopathic Doctor. I always recommend getting your blood levels tested and then supplementing accordingly.

It is important to note that Vitamin D in any dose over 1,000IU is considered a drug, and should only be prescribed and administered by a GP, ND, or NP in Ontario.

Food sources of Vitamin D include fatty fish like tuna, mackerel and salmon, as well as egg yolks. A lot of vegetable and fruit sources are really low in Vitamin D. Since it is fat soluble, think meats and dairy. Which means if you follow a vegan diet and you live in North America, we probably need to get your Vitamin D levels up.

To learn more about Vitamin D supplementing + to create a treatment plan, you can book an appointment with me at Province Apothecary!

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