Vitamin D is required for the regulation of the minerals calcium and phosphorus and plays an important role in maintaining proper bone structure. It can be found in small amounts in certain foods, including fatty fish such as herring, mackerel, sardines and salmon. But most vitamin D – 80 per cent to 90 per cent of what the body gets – is obtained through exposure to sunlight.
Vitamin D deficiency is quite common for people who don’t get enough sun, especially those who live in Canada and the northern United States. Vitamin D deficiency occurs even in sunny climates, possibly because people are staying indoors more, covering up when outside, or using sunscreens consistently to reduce skin cancer risk. Older people are often at greater risk for vitamin D deficiency. They are less likely to spend time in the sun, have difficulty converting sunlight to vitamin D, and may not get any vitamin D in their diet. As many as 40 per cent of older people even in sunny climates such as South Florida are deficient in vitamin D.
Vitamin D supplements are used for preventing and treating rickets, a disease caused by vitamin D deficiency as well as for treating conditions that cause weak and painful bones, psoriasis and low blood calcium. Research has also found that taking a vitamin D supplement reduces the risk of falling by up to 22 per cent. One study found that taking 800 IU of vitamin D reduced the risk of falling, but lower doses did not.
Research has also shown that vitamin D may play a role in reducing the risk of multiple sclerosis (MS), helping with weight loss, reducing the chance of getting influenza, minimizing the risk of rheumatoid arthritis in older women, and preventing cancer. Some studies have shown that people who take higher doses of vitamin D supplements along with calcium may be less likely to develop any type of cancer.
Most vitamin supplements contain 400 IU of vitamin D. Vitamin D3 is the best kind of supplement to take. The Canadian Cancer Society recommends 1000 IU/day during the fall and winter for adults in Canada. For those with a higher risk of having low vitamin D levels, this dose should be taken year round. This includes people who have dark skin, usually wear clothing that covers most of their skin, and people who are older or who don't go outside often.
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