Healthy Living Magazine


With winter on the way, it’s time to make sure you’re getting enough Vitamin D,‘the sunshine vitamin’. Because our bodies make this hormone naturally in the skin in the presence of sunlight, these shorter days with less sunlight can pose a problem. Shawn Nisbet has some solutions.

We need vitamin D for strong bones. All ages require sufficient vitamin D levels: recent research shows older people with adequate vitamin D levels have better muscle control, lower blood pressure, and fewer ills such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis.

Dark-skinned people produce less vitamin D, so those living in northern climates such as Canada could be at a disadvantage.
Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium and promote bone growth. Vitamin D deficiency has now been linked to breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, depression, weight gain and other maladies.

Vitamin D may also help in the treatment or prevention of autism, autoimmune disease, cancer, chronic pain, depression, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, flu, neuromuscular diseases, and osteoporosis.

Why is vitamin D so important?

1. There are some 200 different kinds of cells with receptors for vitamin D, which plays a strong role in boosting immune function and repairing damaged cells. These factors may explain its anti-cancer properties.

2. Vitamin D is a steroid hormone – not a vitamin – that influences virtually every cell in your body, and is easily one of nature’s most potent cancer fighters.

3. Vitamin D influences nearly 3,000 of your genes, and plays a major role in your immune response, including helping your body produce over 200 antimicrobial peptides that help fight all sorts of infections.

How can you get enough vitamin D?

Those living in sunnier climates make 5000-10,000 IU of vitamin D from the sun every day! As Canadians, we end our summers with levels typically between 30-50 nmol – a level at which our overall health is being compromised. According to research, if you live in Canada and do not get at least 15 minutes of sunshine at least three days a week from mid-May to mid-August from 11am to 3pm, you are at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Should your vitamin D serum levels be checked?

If you did not get adequate sunshine this past summer, you may want to have your vitamin D serum level checked. However, many specialists suggest not testing vitamin D levels because deficiency (below 75 nmol) is the norm in Canada and not the exception.

Other researchers feel that optimum sun exposure, when there is enough UVB, will most likely only satisfy those with fairer complexions. Therefore, everyone should take at least 1,000 to 2,000 IU daily.

But is this sufficient? Food sources are simply not enough to consistently raise blood levels to where they should be. Supplementation is widely recommended by health professionals. Health Canada has set the new Upper Level (UL) to 4000 IU per day for those over nine years of age. This will ensure that 98% of the Canadian population will achieve a blood level of about 100-125 nmol promoted by experts.

The cost of a serum Vitamin D test in an Ontario lab starts at $32.00. If your vitamin D count is low on a test, your follow-up test will usually be free.

Always seek professional assistance with your vitamin D supplementation when working with health challenges such as sarciodosis, liver or kidney disease, or hypo or hyperparathyroidism.

Which foods contain vitamin D?

We must first distinguish between D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol). D3, produced by the skin on exposure to sunlight (adequate UVB), is found in some foods (mostly fatty fish), and in supplements. D2, the vegetarian version (mainly from mushrooms), is widely accepted to be less potent than D3. D2 is used to fortify non-dairy beverages such as soy, almond and rice.

Since most foods high in vitamin D are also high in cholesterol, should you avoid them?

Today’s recommendation is to lower your cholesterol levels because high cholesterol is related to an increase in heart disease. It is also advisable to stay out of the sun and wear sunscreen at all times because sun damage is linked to an increase in cancer risks. Perhaps moderation is the key, along with a discussion with your health professional.

Since sunlight is required to turn cholesterol into vitamin D, avoiding the sun will likewise undermine your ability to synthesize vitamin D. And since vitamin D-rich foods are also rich in cholesterol, low-cholesterol diets are inherently deficient in vitamin D.

Vitamin D is best known for its role in calcium metabolism and bone health, but new roles are continually being discovered for vitamin D. These include mental health, blood sugar regulation, the immune system and cancer prevention.

Will my medication have a negative effect
on my vitamin D levels?

Steroid medications can interfere with metabolism of vitamin D. If you take steroids, you should discuss vitamin D with your doctor. The same is true for some weight loss drugs, some cholesterol-lowering drugs, and seizure drugs such as phenobarbitol. Cholesterol-lowering statins, on the other hand, will raise vitamin D levels, but this should be discussed with your healthcare provider.

Can you take too much vitamin D?

There is an upper limit to how much vitamin D you can safely take. The Institute of Medicine recommends that an adult daily intake of up to 4,000 IU of vitamin D is safe. Some say taking more than 10,000 IU per day can cause kidney and tissue damage. The best approach is to check with your health care provider before taking vitamin D supplements.

Before recommending vitamin D supplementation, your provider will consider other factors such as latitude, skin colour, seasonality, lifestyle, diet, age, how much time spent indoors and out, as well as your serum vitamin D test.

Vitamin D does not act alone. It requires other supporting nutrients to help it do its job in preventing disease. These include zinc, vitamin A, boron and magnesium. Be sure to eat foods rich in these nutrients and take a good quality multivitamin/mineral.

Excellent sources of magnesium include Swiss chard and summer squash. Very good sources include spinach, turnip greens, mustard greens, pumpkin seeds, broccoli, flax seeds, green beans, collard greens, kale, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, quinoa, buckwheat, salmon and black beans.

Continue to eat a healthy diet

Studies confirm that a modern diet consisting of fast foods, processed meats, GMO grains and food, vegetables, trans fats, hormone and antibiotic laden meats, and factory produced milk contribute significantly to causing many illnesses. The human body was never meant to be assaulted in this manner!

Increase your intake of whole, organic foods, organic milk and butter, lots of fresh and fermented vegetables, organic meats and eggs, healthy fats – and foods high in vitamin D, such as fatty fish and cod liver oil.

Vitamin D3 food sources

• Salmon, cooked, especially wild-caught; 100g (3.5oz) provides 360 IU
• Mackerel, cooked, especially wild-caught; 100g (3.5oz) provides 345 IU 

• Sardines, canned in oil, drained; 50g (1.75oz) provides 250 IU 

• Mushrooms exposed to ultraviolet light

• Tuna, canned in oil; 100g (3.5oz) provides 235 IU

• A whole egg provides 20 IU if the egg weighs 60g 

• Beef liver, cooked; 100g (3.5oz) provides 15 IU 

• Fish liver oils, such as cod liver oil; 1 Tbs. (15 ml) provides 1360 IU

• Fortified milk, yogurt and cheese (amounts on package)

For more information:;

Shawn M. Nisbet, RHN, CFA, is a registered holistic nutritionist, certified fitness consultant and master Nordic pole walking instructor. Tel: 416.804.0938;;

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