VITAMIN D: Why is it so important?

Vitamin D has a plethora of functions in the body. It improves immunity, reduces inflammation, has a role in cell proliferation and neuromuscular modulation. This, again, reiterates the importance of ensuring your body has optimal levels throughout the year. Keeping good levels of vitamin D can reduce your chances of contracting colds or flus and will keep your mood up during the grayer months.  

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, in which humans cannot produce themselves. It is important to supplement D3 if you are living in northern latitudes, especially during the winter months. Vitamin D is only found in a few foods such as salmon, sardines, mushrooms, eggs and fortified food products (non dairy milks, cereales, etc). 

The main way we assimilate vitamin D is through UBV sunlight exposure. Unfortunately, living in Canada means that this exposure is only available to us through certain months of the year. During the months of May to October, midday exposure between 10am and 2pm without burning the skin, can produce 10,000 to 25,000 IUs of vitamin D. The vitamin is then converted to its active form, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D [1,25(OH)2D], or calcitriol, in the body by the liver and kidneys. This conversion happens in two steps. First, it is converted to its storage form, calcidiol, by the liver. From here, the kidneys convert it to the active form, calcitriol. This is the steroid-hormone form of vitamin D, and the one that binds to vitamin D receptors on cells. Once calcitriol binds to a receptor, it either turns genes on or off, acting similarly to a steroid hormone. Most cells in the body have vitamin D receptors and this may be why we see a link between D deficiency and so many chronic illnesses. 

One of the main reasons for keeping your vitamin D levels up is bone health. Vitamin D stimulates absorption of calcium in the gut. Both calcium and vitamin D are important for maintaining a strong and healthy bone matrix. Long term consequences of having inadequate levels of the vitamin could mean higher risk of fracture, osteoporosis and muscle weakness. 

The biggest organ in our body, or should I say on our body, also shows great benefit from adequate vitamin D levels. Our skin needs vitamin D to ensure it can create a solid barrier against outside invaders being viruses and bacteria. The skin uses vitamin D to increase production of immune cells in order to maintain our first line of defence. Not only does it help our skin as part of the immune system, it helps to increase the proliferation of skin cells to improve wound healing, hair growth and reduce scarring. 

Vitamin D testing:

The most accurate way of testing Vitamin D status is through the blood. Both the inactive and active forms of vitamin D can be tested. The inactive form, 25-hydroxyvitamin D, is most abundant in the blood and is therefore tested more often to check an individual’s status. Testing is typically performed between November and January to see if you are storing enough to last you through the winter months and to determine what is the best form and amount to supplement with. Those who do not get enough sun exposure, the elderly or have darker pigmented skin are at a greater risk for vitamin D deficiency. 

Vitamin D is measured in nmol/L. Levels above 50nmol/L are sufficient for maintaining bone health and immune function. Naturopathic Doctors typically look at wellness from a lense of optimal health. An optimal range for vitamin D is between 75-125nmol/L.

Deficiency, what does it look like?

Deficient vitamin D status is being below 30nmol/L. At this low of a level in the blood, you are at risk for issues with bone health. Having suboptimal levels, meaning between 30-75noml/L, you may experience frequent colds, low mood, weight gain, fatigue, poor wound healing, and hair loss. Low vitamin D levels, is just one of the reasons you may experience these symptoms. It is important to consult your Naturopathic Doctor, get tested and ensure you are on the right path to wellness.