Sunshine & Vitamin D Deficiency

Sunshine & Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D and its Role in the body

Vitamin D is synthesized in the body in response to sunlight and acts as a hormone; just as important as thyroid hormone or testosterone. There are vitamin D receptors in every tissue of the body; every brain cell, every bone marrow cell, every immune cell, every heart cell.  D regulates the expression of a vast array of genes in tissues including immune cells, cardiovascular, muscle and reproductive organs.

Who is at risk of becoming deficient? 

sunscreen on skin - sunThere is widespread vitamin D deficiency affecting people in all climates, as more people spend their time indoors, reducing their exposure to sunlight radiation. In fact, some researchers feel that vitamin D deficiency reflects “Nature Deficit Disorder”. 

Compounding the problem is the widely recommended advice to always stay out of the sun/cover up/wear sunscreen, even year round. Unfortunately that blocks most vitamin D formation in the skin. The darker your skin the longer you have to be in the sun to make the same amount of vitamin D as someone with lighter skin. Weight also affects vitamin D levels – the more overweight you are the lower your vitamin D.

Medications that interact with vitamin D

Steroids  (like prednisone)
  • impair vitamin D metabolism
  • this will decrease calcium absorption & increase bone loss over time
Heart Medications
  • vitamin D affects calcium absorption
  • calcium levels affect heart function & may alter the effects of cardiac meds
Calcium Channel Blockers
  • may decrease D metabolism
Fat Blocking Meds
  • may decrease D absorption
  • may decrease D levels by accelerating its use
  • vitiman D may increase the amount of aluminum absorbed from these medications


Health risks of vitamin D deficiency

D is best known for its role in calcium and bone metabolism, but emerging research indicates that low levels of D may be associated with an increased risk of some cancers, diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular/heart disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, depression, Alzheimer’s’ Disease, dementia, and infections.   In preparation for pregnancy, vitamin D adequacy decreases the risk of prematurity, preeclampsia, Cesarean deliveries, childhood leukemia, MS, and schizophrenia.

Many researchers believe that vitamin D supplementation represents the single most cost effective medical intervention. A recent study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine examining health risk assessment scores correlated vitamin D status to job productivity.

Economic Burden and Premature Deaths Due to Vitamin D Deficiency in Canada:

Canadians have mean blood levels of D averaging below optimal. A 2010 study estimated that the death rate could fall by 16.1 % (37,000 deaths), and the economic burden by 6.9% (or $14.4 billion) if measures were taken to increase blood levels for all Canadians to within the optimal range.

How to ensure vitamin D adequacy: What is the right dose to take?

We can’t know if someone is vitamin D deficient without taking a blood test (25-hydroxy D) because circulating blood levels of vitamin D vary from one individual to another depending on season of the year, latitude, skin colour, body weight and genes. We recommend 10-15 mins mid-day summer sun on exposed skin without sunscreen, as long as there is no burning. In addition to healthy sunlight, people should supplement year round. The amounts we prescribe are based on the most recently revised research. Of course, each of us are biochemically individual. We look at the patients baseline blood levels and health profile and then give them the amounts required to achieve healthy vitamin D status.

Test tube with blood


OHIP and vitamin D testing

Vitamin D testing is not an OHIP insured service for Ontarians, with the exception of those with osteoporosis, malabsorption syndromes and individuals who are taking medications that can interfere with vitamin D in the liver.  Anyone can still request vitamin D testing, but they will have to pay for it unless they are in one of the exclusion categories. While the cost of this testing varies, the fee for the lab we use is around $40.


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