The Sunshine Vitamin

  • Written by Dr. Lucas Szczepanik B.Sc., D.C.

    Do you recall your mother saying “drink your milk, it will make your bones strong” when you were growing up? Most mother’s response to the inevitable question “why?” would be “because it contains calcium”. This is true. Equally important to strong bones is vitamin D, also found in milk. A fact some of you may not have realized, and rightfully so. Vitamin D is not a vitamin that gets a lot of publicity like it’s relatives vitamin B, vitamin C, and vitamin E. This is a trend that is starting to change because of the evidence suggesting vitamin D is very important for more than just strong bones.

    I came across an interesting article on in mid-July concerning vitamin D as it relates to the incidence of cancer. Creighton University in Nebraska conducted a four-year study of 1179 women and found that people who took calcium and vitamin D, and had higher levels in their blood, were 77% less likely to develop cancer after the first year. Based on the results of this study the Canadian Cancer Society now recommends that adults take vitamin D. The society suggests:

    • Adults living in Canada consider taking vitamin D supplements of 1000 international units (IU) per day during the fall and winter months

    • Adults at higher risk of having lower vitamin D levels should consider taking vitamin D supplementation of 1,000 international units (IU) per day all year round. This includes people who are older, have dark skin, and don’t go outside often or wear clothing that covers most of the skin. (The Canadian Cancer Society also advises a consultation with your health care provider before adding any supplements to your diet, especially if you have a health condition or are taking medication. Health Canada warns people about the risks of too much vitamin D. People are advised not to exceed 2000 IU of vitamin D per day, including food and over the counter supplements.) So how do we get vitamin D into our bodies besides supplementation? There are many foods that contain vitamin D such as eggs (egg yolks), butter, cod liver oil, halibut, liver, milk, oatmeal, salmon, sardines, sweet potatoes, tuna and vegetable oils. Vitamin D can also be synthesized naturally by sun exposure to the skin. This does not mean it’s okay to bake out in the sun for an hour or so. That would be like substituting one type of cancer for another. The Canadian Cancer Society continues to give the following recommendations for sun exposure:

    • Protect yourself and your family from the sun, particularly between 11am and 4 pm when the sun’s rays are at their strongest, or any time of the day when the UV index is 3 or more.

    • Use a sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or higher — and SPF 30 if you work outdoors or if you will be outside for most of the day. Look for “broad spectrum” sunscreen that offers protection against two types of ultraviolet rays, UVA and UVB.

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