Vitamin D: Why Is It Important?
What Does Vit D Do in the Body?
There are a number of important jobs that Vit D does:
Measuring Vitamin D status
Generally the next question I get from a lot of people is how do I know if I'm getting enough Vit D. Currently the best way to do this is to measure it in the blood by look at the blood or serum concentration of calcidiol (D2). Wait, didn't I say that the active form is calctriol (D3)? The reason is the 1/2 life of D3 is too short to make it a good indicator as well as it being regulated highly regulated by parathyroid hormone, calcium and phosphate. D3 levels also do not normally decrease significantly until Vit D deficiency is severe.
How Much Vit D is Needed?
If we understand how important Vit D is, the next thing my patients often ask is how much do I need?
As we mentioned above, to know if you personally are getting enough, getting your levels checked is going to be the best option. However, there are general recommendations made by the government which are based on what is called the RDA or Required Daily Allowance. This depends on the average of what works best for a healthy population and maintaining basic requirements for health. In the case of Vit D that's enough to bone health and calcium metabolism, and then in addition the RDA is set based on minimal sun exposure as well. All of this combined, the current daily recommendation for adults and children over 4 years is 400 IU.
If we're trying to raise our levels of Vit D, 400 IU is definitely not going to be enough.
Can I Get Enough from the Sun?
Most people meet at least some of their Vit D requirements from the sun. However, what most people don't realize is that this depends. You need to be outside at the right time of day, and depending on where you live, time of year as well. We need to be exposed to UVB rays at wavelengths of 290-320 nanometers. Other factors that can affect this are: cloud cover, smog, melanin content of your skin (the darker your skin the more difficult it is to 'absorb' enough sun).
Optimal Sun Exposure
The factors previously mentioned and current research that's been done still makes it challenging to know exactly what the right amount of sun exposure is for each person. However, these guidelines are helpful to get some helpful exposure:
- In general, approx 5-30 mins of sun exposure between 10am -3 pm twice a week to arms, face, neck. legs or back without sunscreen [NOTE: if you are monitoring risk for skin cancer, than keep in mind any recommendations from your healthcare provider]
- Spring, Summer and Fall are the optimal times of year, particularly those who live in more northern latitudes
Take Home Message
- Vit D is important for our overall health, and we're still figuring out the full extent of what this entails
- Vit D is present in the diet, and through exposure to the sun we are able to synthesize Vit D
- The drawback is it's tough to determine how much we're getting, so many of us will need to supplement with it at times
- There are safe and unsafe levels of Vit D, and finding out what works best for us personally is likely going to require getting our levels checked periodically.
Have questions about Vitamin D or making sure you're getting what you need to live your best life? Connect with me and we can get a personalized plan together that takes your individual needs into account.
Note: Talk to your Naturopathic Doctor today about getting assessed and treated if needed, and as always talk to your health care provider before beginning any new medication or supplement. This information is not meant to replace the advice/guidance of a medical professional, nor should it be acted upon by individuals unsupervised by the appropriate healthcare provider.
Feeling a little SAD lately?
Most of us are feeling at least a little tired of all the snow, and are thinking more and more often about spring and sunshine. However, for some of us the change of season is much more noticeable because of the huge difference it makes in our mood. It’s normal to have a few days of low mood, but if it persists for most of the winter months and you aren’t motivated to do anything you enjoy then it may be something a little bit more.
Seasonal affective disorder (also called SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. If you're like most people with seasonal affective disorder, your symptoms start in the fall and may continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, seasonal affective disorder causes depression in the spring or early summer.
What are the signs of SAD?
If you think you may have SAD it is important that you discuss how you are feeling with your health care provider. SAD is considered a type of depression, which can worsen and potentially lead to thoughts of suicide. If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others it is of the utmost importance to seek medical help immediately!
What Can We Do About SAD?
Light Therapy (phototherapy) has been shown to be a very effective treatment for reducing feelings of SAD. The specialized light box mimics natural light, which seems to have an effect on brain chemistry related to mood. Most people start to respond after 2 to 4 days and causes few side effects.
Conventional Treatment: If symptoms are more severe then a combination of psychotherapy and medication (eg. Zoloft or Paxil), may be employed by your doctor. Generally a medication with the fewest side effects will be chosen, and your doctor may suggest beginning the antidepressant prior to the start of your symptoms each year.
St. John’s Wort: has been used to treat mild to moderate depression. Some studies have found St. John’s Wort to be comparable to tricyclic and SSRI (fluxotine) with fewer side effects.
SAMe: synthetic form of the same substance that is made naturally in the body from a reaction between methionine (an essential amino acid) and ATP, has been shown to alleviate depression as well as the pain of osteoarthritis.
Melatonin. This natural hormone helps regulate mood. A change in the season may change the level of melatonin in your body.
Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements may help relieve depression symptoms and have other health benefits. Sources of omega-3s include fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Omega-3s are also found in certain nuts and grains and in other vegetarian sources, but it isn't clear whether they have the same effect as fish oil.
Let the sun shine in: Open the blinds, trim a few branches, add a skylight if need be. Do whatever you can to allow more natural light into the home and office.
Go outside: Try and get outside during the day when the sun is shining. Take a nice walk, sit on a bench, just try and get into the natural light more often.
Exercise: Regular exercise has been shown through many studies to improve mood and relieve stress and anxiety.
All of the following have been linked to decreased feelings of depression to varying degrees:
- Guided Imagery
There is no one set formula for preventing SAD, but through proper treatment and working with your health care provider you can learn to manage this condition well. Talk to your Naturopathic Doctor today about getting assessed and treated if needed, and as always talk to your health care provider before beginning any new medication or supplement.
Godfrey A. & Saunders P.R. (2010) Principles & Practices of Naturopathic Botanical Medicine: Volume I: Botanical Monographs. Central Nervous System, pg. 161-163. CCNM Press.
Mayo Clinic. Diseases and Conditions: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/basics/definition/con-20021047
Murray M. & Pizzorno, J.. (1998) Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (2nd Ed.). Depression, pg 377-400. Three Rivers Press.
I am a Naturopathic Doctor and Doula providing care in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. I have a passion for helping people with their health issues and improving the birth experience for Moms, and their babies. I also have a life long love affair with soccer, curling, and the alto saxophone.