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Vitamin D In Sunless Climates

by Jenny Berkeley, RN

When I work in a major hospital in Toronto and a cottage hospital outside of the city, I am often disappointed by what I notice as a trend among young people coming into the emergency rooms. I see this only during the winter months as it does not happen
during the summer.

Everyone knows the importance of sunlight. We should try to spend at least 15 to 30 minutes per day in the sun for good health and vitality. I myself like to walk a bit more during the summer because of the need to get more sunlight. And when I am working in the hospital ER room or the clinic, I take my break outside when I can to get sunlight and fresh air.

What do I see only during the winter months? I see young people who show up in the hospital emergency room with painful soreness in their arms or legs, and their skin has turned a bluish color. They had their arms and legs exposed to the open air during winter. The air is still cold even on the rare days when it is bright and sunny.

After prolonged exposure to the cold, the blood vessels in the arms and legs begin to restrict. Prolonged restriction causes the blood flow to the extremities to be very low, leading to severe pain by the time the teenager has arrived in the emergency room. While waiting to see the doctor, I can see their pain. Is this an attempt to look cool — or just to get more sunlight on the skin? Whatever the reason, the suffering could have been prevented by dressing warmly and appropriately for the season. Getting sunlight exposure and free vitamin D from the sun is important, but not at the expense of one’s health and happiness.

A two-year study of vitamin D levels in Canadians between the ages of 6 and 79 found some interesting results. The results found that in general, people have more vitamin D during the summer months (April to October) than in the winter months (November to March).

The study also found that about 4% of Canadians aged 6 to 79 are vitamin D deficient, 10% did not have sufficient vitamin D for bone health, and 35% of Canadians had amounts suggested for overall health and vitality, that is, over 75 nmol/L. Another item of interest was the way this vitamin D level seemed to trend overall amongst the different age groups. From the chart, you can see that in young kids there was more vitamin D and as they moved to adulthood, there was less concentration of vitamin D right through till middle age. Then Canadians beyond middle age got more vitamin D until their golden years.

The study did not get into what habits may have been attributed to the vitamin D levels in the various groups although one can consider the fact that children spend lots of time playing outside. This outside play decreases as they get older and take up video games, have more school and homework, and tend to spend less time outdoors. Adults spend most of their time in offices instead of in the sun. Those who are retired from work get more time outdoors and seniors take supplements as they get older, which could also account for the increase.

The overall trend may be something that many readers can relate to in their own lives or the lives of friends or loved ones. It is important that we safely get as much sun exposure as we needed to meet our vitamin D requirements.

People with darker skin need to get a bit more sunlight than people with lighter skin. As the study suggests, over the lifetime of a person, they will hit a low point in their vitamin D levels in the 20 to 39 year old range. This can, and should be avoided if someone wants to enjoy a life full of health and vitality in their senior years.

During the fall and winter season in northern latitudes, it is important to keep on top of the vitamin D supplements — especially for teens and adults. Any person can know whether they are getting enough sunlight in a day. Have you been outside today? Have you spent 30 minutes outside in the sunshine in the past 24 hours?

If you answer no to these questions and you typically do not go outside or take a high quality vitamin D supplement, I hope this article can serve as a wake-up call. An adequate intake of vitamin D is an important component in your health and wellness toolkit.

Here’s a strategy I would use for myself and my family. First, I would ensure that we have the best whole-food, plant-based, vitamin D supplements on the market for our use. Next I would ensure that my husband and children are taking their vitamin D weekly and also getting outside enough.

Lastly, I would look at a reliable vitamin D tests at the alternative doctor’s office perhaps annually or every other year. When choosing a time of year to do the test, I’d pick the winter season because it would give you an idea of how low your vitamin D levels really are. After you know your result then you can keep up your routine (or make adjustments if necessary) for a healthy lifestyle. Work with your qualified
professional to help you find the best intake level for optimal health and vitality.

Peace and be well.

References

  1. Kellie Langlois, Linda Greene-Finestone, Julian Little, Nick Hidiroglou and Susan Whiting. 2010. Vitamin D status of Canadians as measured in the 2007 to 2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 82-003-X. Ottawa, Ontario.