October 25, 2014
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Nutrition and Fitness

 Health Home >> Nutrition and Fitness >> Diet and aging 


Vitamin D: are you getting enough?

Are you getting your recommended daily intake of vitamin D? Probably not. It is estimated that 1 billion people worldwide are not getting enough.

Most people get their required vitamin D from what their skin makes when it is exposed to UVB radiation from the sun. But when it's winter and you live far north of the equator, you're likely not getting enough sunlight to allow your body to make its own vitamin D.

In fact, in Canada, there is not enough sunlight for your skin to make any vitamin D at all from October to March.

Another reason you're probably not getting enough vitamin D is that you're likely not eating enough foods that are high in vitamin D, such as fatty fish and fish oils, to make up for the lack of vitamin D from sunlight. If you're over the age of 50, you're at an even bigger risk of vitamin D deficiency, since your skin can't make it as efficiently as in younger people. Got darker skin? Then the higher amount of melanin in your skin may be decreasing your skin's ability to make vitamin D from sunlight.

Getting enough vitamin D is crucial for maintaining healthy bones and reducing the risk of getting osteoporosis. Children who do not get enough vitamin D could get rickets (soft bones leading to deformities). And more recent evidence seems to suggest that vitamin D may be important in promoting immune function and reducing the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

So, how much vitamin D should you be getting? According to Health Canada, the average Canadian adult up to 50 years of age should get 200 IU per day. People aged 51 to 70 years old should get 400 IU per day, and people over 70 years should get 600 IU per day. However, the Canadian Cancer Society recommends that all adult Canadians take a vitamin D supplement of 1,000 IU per day during the fall and winter, and people with greater risks should take this all year.

Osteoporosis Canada recommends 400 IU per day for adults 50 and under, and 800 IU per day for adults over 50. The Canadian Cancer Society recommends no more than 1,000 IU per day, although some organizations have recommended up to 2,000 IU. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to find out which recommendation you should follow. The amount of vitamin D you need may depend on your individual risk factors and lifestyle.

So what can you do about it? You can try to get more vitamin D from your diet by eating foods that are high in vitamin D. Try cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, swordfish, eggs, and chicken liver. You can also try to get more vitamin D from orange juice and milk that are fortified with vitamin D. One cup of each of these normally gives about 25% of your daily requirement.

During the sunnier months, you can probably get most of your vitamin D from about 5 to 15 minutes of sun exposure 2 or 3 times per week. Keep in mind that this is most effective for people with light skin who are not wearing sunscreen. But remember to get out of the sun and wear sunscreen after this short period of exposure to prevent skin damage, which can lead to skin cancer.

The easiest way to make sure you get the right amount of vitamin D every day is to take a supplement. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about vitamin D supplements.

Lisa Tourountzas


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