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Vitamin D is an important nutrient. It helps your body build strong bones and teeth. Maintaining an adequate level of vitamin D is important for all stages of life. It is especially important for children while their bones and teeth are developing. Vitamin D has other health benefits, as well. Vitamin D may protect against various health conditions, such as some cancers, muscle weakness, mood disorders, diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Path to improved health
You can get Vitamin D from certain foods, sunlight, and dietary supplements.
Sunlight: Vitamin D is sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin” because your body can create its own vitamin D when you are exposed to sunlight. However, due to public health concerns about ultraviolet radiation from the sun causing skin cancer, there are no recommendations from Health Canada on length of time needed.
Vitamin D-fortified foods: Most people get very little vitamin D from the foods they eat, because there are very few foods that contain vitamin D. Foods that naturally contain vitamin D include fatty fish (salmon, arctic char, rainbow trout), fish oil, eggs (yolk), cheese, and butter. There are also foods and drinks that have been fortified with vitamin D, such as milk, milk alternatives, some brands of orange juice, and some vitamin-fortified breakfast cereals. Read the Nutrition Fact Table to learn if the products you choose are sources of vitamin D.
Dietary supplements: Vitamin D is available both over the counter and by prescription. If you are concerned that you are not getting enough vitamin D, be sure to contact your healthcare provider. They may ask you about your diet and your exposure to sunlight, as well as any other risk factors that you may have. Your healthcare provider may want to test your level of vitamin D. This can be done through a blood test (inserting a small needle into your vein and taking a sample of blood to send to a lab). This will help determine if you need a supplement and, if so, how much.
A low level of vitamin D in the body is referred to as a “vitamin D deficiency.” Children who don’t get enough vitamin D are at risk for rickets. Rickets is a disorder that affects the bones. It causes bones to soften and break easily. Vitamin D deficiency can delay a child’s growth. It can lead to cavities and problems with teeth structure. Adults who do not get enough vitamin D are at risk for osteomalacia (weak bones), osteoporosis (thin bones), and muscle weakness. This can increase the risk of bone fractures and falls.
How much vitamin D do I need?
The amount of vitamin D your body needs can vary depending on your age. To view Health Canada’s Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for vitamin D, please visit https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/vitamins-minerals/vitamin-calcium-updated-dietary-reference-intakes-nutrition.html#a10
Am I at risk for vitamin D deficiency?
People who are at risk for vitamin D deficiency include:
- Infants who are only breastfed
- Babies and toddlers who are given non-milk food products or foods that are not fortified with vitamin D
- Seniors or older adults
- People who have darker skin
- People who get limited exposure to sunlight, including people who are homebound
- People who have difficulty absorbing dietary fat (because of conditions such as colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and cystic fibrosis)
- People with dietary restrictions, such as vegan, milk-allergic, ovo-vegetarian, and lactose-intolerance
- People who are obese (body mass index [BMI] = 30)
- People with kidney disease, including kidney transplant recipients
- People who take medicines called glucocorticoids (one example: prednisone)
- People who live in Canada- Many Canadians do not get as much sun as needed to produce adequate vitamin D.
Because of the many risk factors for vitamin D deficiency, people should work with their healthcare provider to consider taking a supplement to obtain recommended vitamin D intake.