Getting enough sun? It may be just as essential as adding more exercise to your daily routine or eating more vegetables. Increasingly, research from Canada and abroad is the importance of the “sunshine vitamin,” or as it’s more commonly known; Vitamin D.
Our bodies produce Vitamin D from exposure to the sun when we are not wearing sunscreen. This in turn helps the body absorb calcium, maintaining bone strength, and helping muscles, nerves and the immune system function properly. Although Vitamin D is not found in many foods, good sources include milk, fatty fish such as salmon, eggs, and various fortified foods (for example, orange juice, yogurt).
For many people living in the more northern areas of the world, sunshine can be extremely limited in winter, which leads to a decrease in Vitamin D absorption and can bring on forms of depression such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). To combat this, many inventive solutions have been implemented. For examples, the city of Umeå, Sweden sees less than eight hours of sunlight a day in the winter due to its northerly position. This prompted the local power agency to place special phototherapy tubes in city bus stops. These tubes generate full-spectrum light without the harmful UV rays of the sun, and so far have been a success in Umeå.
Vitamin D has also been the subject of various new research findings and studies. In March 2012, doctors at Children’s Hospital Boston found that Vitamin D intake was associated with a lower risk of developing stress fractures among girls involved in high-impact activity when compared to a similar intake of dairy and calcium. In November, professors John White and David Goltzman of McGill University found that Vitamin D was able to slow the production and function of a protein called cMYC, which is active at elevated levels in many types of cancers and drives the division of cancer cells. Vitamin D made some of the first headlines of 2013 when a Northwestern Medicine study was released. The study found that women who were obese at the start of their pregnancy did not pass on sufficient amounts of Vitamin D to their babies, despite having similar Vitamin D levels to those of leaner women.
However, a Dutch study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal goes against much of the Vitamin D research that has been published. An article on the study in The Globe and Mail reported that low levels of Vitamin D were found in people of exceptional age – meaning that the secret to living a longer life may be linked to lower levels of vitamin D, even though absence of the vitamin has been linked to a greater risk of illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
It is important to note that Vitamin D can be too much of a good thing. Like any new diet, one should always consult a doctor before making any major changes, especially since something such as Vitamin D in excess can be harmful to one’s health. Perhaps it’s always best to live by the old adage: everything in moderation.
For more on recommended Vitamin D levels and general information on the sunshine vitamin, please visit the links below:
Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health (United States): http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-QuickFacts/
 “What you need to know about Vitamin D” Eat Right Ontario http://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Nutrients-%28vitamins-and-minerals%29/What-you-need-to-know-about-Vitamin-D.aspx Accessed: January 8, 2013
 “Phototherapy bus stop lamps keep SAD Swedes happy” By Scott Sutherland http://ca.news.yahoo.com/blogs/geekquinox/phototherapy-bus-stop-lamps-keep-sad-swedes-happy-230227499.html Accessed: January 8, 2013
 “Vitamin D intake may be associated with lower stress fracture risk in girls” EurekAlert News Release http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-03/jaaj-vdi030212.php Published: March 5, 2012, Accessed: January 8, 2013
 “Newly discovered effects of vitamin D on cancer” McGill University News Release http://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/channels/news/newly-discovered-effects-vitamin-d-cancer-219089 Published: November 22, 2013, Accessed: January 8, 2013
 “Obese Moms Risk Having Babies With Low Vitamin D, Study Finds” Science Daily http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130107150714.htm?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fmost_popular+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Most+Popular+News%29 Published: January 7, 2013, Accessed January 8, 2013