vitamin d for disease prevention

Falling short on sunshine: vitamin D deficiency in the colder months

Summer is nearly over and with it the seemingly endless number of sunny days is coming to an end. With autumn on its way, should you be concerned about getting enough vitamin D?

Why vitamin D is important

Most of us are aware that it’s important to protect ourselves from too much sun exposure. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause many adverse health issues, which include sunburn, eye diseases, skin cancers and premature aging.

Protecting your skin from the harmful rays of the sun (with clothing and sunscreen containing SPF 30 or higher) is paramount – even during the colder months.

With that being said, what’s talked about less frequently is how appropriate amounts of safe exposure to the sun offer significant health benefits as well.

Vitamin D, also commonly known as the “sunshine” vitamin, is a fat-soluble secosteroid that helps your body absorb calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D helps to maintain bone and dental health, regulates many different cellular functions and can even enhance your mood. It plays a critical role in both calcium homeostasis and proper bone metabolism. A long-term vitamin D deficiency, therefore, can prove dangerous to your health.

Are you getting enough vitamin D?

The clinical manifestations of vitamin D deficiency depend on both the severity and the duration of the deficiency. Most patients with mild to moderate deficiency are asymptomatic; patients with severe deficiency, however, are at risk of experiencing reduced absorption of calcium and phosphorus. This can lead to demineralization of bones and osteomalacia (softening of the bones) in more prolonged cases. Symptoms such as pain and tenderness, skeletal fractures, muscle weakness and difficulty walking may occur in more severe cases. In children, severe vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets, although this is uncommon in most developed countries.

What is much more common in North America, however, is a subclinical vitamin D deficiency, as measured by low serum 25(OH) D. This can lead to many adverse health effects for Canadians, including osteoporosis and an increased risk of fractures from falls in older adults.

Are you at risk of vitamin D deficiency?

There are many causes that contribute to vitamin D deficiency, such as reduced sun exposure, end-organ resistance to vitamin D and decreased intake or absorption of vitamin D. Certainly, some individuals are more at risk of developing a deficiency than others.

Elderly people who spend most of their time indoors are at a much higher risk for a low serum vitamin D level. The cutaneous production of vitamin D naturally declines with age, especially in the northern latitudes.

Other people with an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency include individuals with:

  • darker skin tones
  • an obese BMI (or higher)
  • osteoporosis or bone disease
  • limited effective sun exposure
  • a prescription for medication that accelerates the metabolism of vitamin D

What do I do if I’m vitamin D deficient?

Identifying and treating vitamin D deficiency is critical to maintaining overall musculoskeletal health as described above, but it also potentially impacts your extraskeletal health (such as the immune system and cardiovascular system).

Unfortunately, limited data exists regarding how to screen for vitamin D deficiency in asymptomatic adults. If you are concerned about your vitamin D intake, or if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms outlined above, be sure to talk with your family physician at Copeman Healthcare. Your physician can help you identify your options and, if appropriate, will order blood work to help measure your vitamin D serum level.

The easiest way to get more vitamin D? Get outside and enjoy some sunshine this fall!

Concerned about your Vitamin D intake? Please speak with your family physician or registered dietitian about your options.