The ABC’s of vitamin D

Discover Vitamin D’s many benefits on the body, such as better calcium absorption and improved bone health.

Vitamin D is an important vitamin produced mainly by the skin following exposure to the sun’s UV rays, although it can also be obtained from food, either naturally (such as from certain types of fish) or artificially, from foods such as milk, which is fortified with vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a key role in helping the body absorb calcium from food to build strong bones, structures that are constantly renewed and that require calcium to do so. Vitamin D is estimated to boost calcium absorption by 30% to 80%. Canada’s climate and its people’s lifestyle are such that most individuals do not meet their daily vitamin D requirements. A deficiency of this vitamin can contribute to various health problems, including osteoporosis.

Vitamin D and osteoporosis

A common disease that affects more women than men, osteoporosis often goes undetected at the early stage but can become quite debilitating as it is usually the reason behind falls and bone fractures. Osteoporosis is characterized by an accelerated loss of bone mass, resulting in more fragile bones that are susceptible to fractures. As life expectancy increases in North America, this disease is expected to affect a growing number of people and prevention is therefore becoming increasingly important. One of the best ways to avoid this disease is to ensure an appropriate intake of calcium and vitamin D from birth, since bone development during childhood and adolescence is a key determinant of adult skeleton health. Although it’s never too late to build up your calcium and vitamin D stores, the earlier you start, the more you’ll benefit when you’re older.

What is the daily recommended intake of vitamin D?

The recommended daily intake depends on your age, as shown in Table 1. The sun is clearly our main source of vitamin D. In summer, exposing the face, arms and hands to sunlight for 15 minutes will significantly increase the body’s production of vitamin D. Food sources include dairy products, margarine, eggs, fish and cod liver oil. Table 2 shows examples of foods rich in vitamin D.

Table 1*

AgeRecommended
Daily Intake of
Elemental Calcium
Recommended
Daily Intake of
Vitamin D
From 1 to 3 years 700 mg 600 IU
From 4 to 8 years 1,000 mg 600 IU
From 9 to 18 years 1,300 mg 600 IU
From 19 to 50 years 1,000 mg 400 to 1000 IU
Over age 50 1,200 mg 800 to 2000 IU
During pregnancy and while breast feeding 1,000 mg 600 IU
*According to clinical practice guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis in Canada, CMAJ 2010: pp.1-12. Dietary reference intakes. Document available online on the Health Canada website at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/reference/table/index-eng.php.

Table 2*

FoodServing SizeAmount of
Vitamin D
1%, 2% or 3, % milk 250 ml (1 cup) 103 IU
Skim milk 250 ml (1 cup) 104 IU
Whole uncooked egg 1 large egg 16 IU
Cod liver oil 15 ml 1,382 IU
Uncooked sole 1 filet (162 g) 97 IU
Canned pink salmon with bones 1 can (454 g) 2,638 IU
Poached pink salmon 100 g 861 IU
Canned pink sockeye salmon with bones 1 can (369 g) 2,882 IU
Atlantic sardines canned in oil and with bones 250 ml (drained) 428 IU
Margarine 15 ml 76 IU
*According to Brault Dubuc, M. and Caron Lahaie, L., Valeur nutritive des aliments, 9th edition, Société Brault-Lahaie, 2003, 331 pages.

Get the right amount

Everyone, regardless of age, must get enough vitamin D to ensure proper bone development. That said, some groups are more susceptible to vitamin D deficiency:

The elderly
Vitamin D production by the skin and calcium absorption slows considerably as we age. The elderly must therefore make doubly sure to get an adequate supply of vitamin D in order to maintain good bone health and prevent the ravages of osteoporosis.

People with little exposure to sunlight
Such individuals must obtain their vitamin D from other sources (food or supplements).

Vitamin D supplements are available in various forms (drops, capsules, tablets, etc.) with or without a prescription. Certain product manufacturers, such as Jamieson, offer a variety of formulations to make your vitamin D intake easier and more pleasant. If you’re unsure about your daily vitamin D or calcium intake, speak to your doctor or pharmacist. Both can help you work out a plan to keep your bones in tip top shape.

Your pharmacist will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

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The ABC’s of vitamin D

Discover Vitamin D’s many benefits on the body, such as better calcium absorption and improved bone health.
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