Now that more seasonal weather has arrived in Oxford, November is bringing on the grey skies and gloomy days.
But as local residents begin to cover up for the winter, donning those toques and mittens, they’re losing more than just the warmth of the summer.
They’re also losing the chance to soak up vitamin D from the sun.
“Across the board dietitians recommend supplementing for all Canadians during the fall and winter months,” said Katie Neil, a registered dietitian and Oxford County Public Health’s nutritionist.
“That’s basically because it’s impossible to make it through our skin the way that we rely on that function through the summer months.”
Sure, the sun comes out on occasion through the frigid winter, but Canadians don’t leave much skin exposed when temps are below freezing.
“It usually only takes 20 to 30 minutes of exposure, really just on your hands even and your face and neck (to get enough vitamin D),” Neil said. That’s why most people get enough of the nutrient through the summer.”
The Vitamin D Society, a non-profit group that seeks to raise awareness about the nutrient (and the health impacts of vitamin D deficiency), declared November to be Vitamin D Awareness Month.
“Now is the time you need to take some action. This is the month where you vitamin D levels start to drop off,” said executive director Perry Holman.
“You need to think about taking a supplement – or going south, maybe,” he added with a laugh.
He referenced a Statistics Canada study showing that 35 per cent of Canadians are below the level of vitamin D recommended by Health Canada.
“Vitamin D helps your body communicate effectively and do things properly. It’s like a little repairman, it keeps your body going,” said Holman.
It’s also key for strong bones and teeth by helping the body absorb calcium.
"Without vitamin D, we're not absorbing (calcium) to the level that we need to," Neil said.
Oxford County Public Health recommends that everyone supplement with 600 IU (international units) of vitamin D between November and April. Tablets usually come in quantities of 400 IU or 1,000 IU – it’s fine to take two of the former or one of the latter each day, Neil said.
The Vitamin D Society recommends even higher – all the way up to 4,000 IU for adults. That’s the upper limit suggested by Health Canada, but Holman said that most research shows no negative effects until 10,000 IU per day.
Taking some kind of vitamin D supplement is not a bad routine to create year-round, either, especially since many people wear sunscreen that can block the sun’s rays from getting to the skin.
“Certainly it wouldn’t be harmful (to supplement) through the entire year,” Neil said.
Choosing the right supplement at the store can be another source of anxiety.
“Definitely make sure it’s Vitamin D, just a simple tablet by itself,” Neil advised.
And always look for a DIN or NPN number on the bottle.
“It’s usually in very fine print, very small number. That number means that the product is regulated in Canada for sale,” she said.
Supplements are one of the only ways to get vitamin D in the dark winter months. It is only naturally occurring in a few foods, including egg yolks and fatty fish like salmon and tuna.
But Neil noted that many dairy products, including cow’s milk and plant beverages, are fortified with vitamin D.
Holman and the Vitamin D Society say there are far-reaching benefits to getting enough vitamin D.
“There’s a lot of research – these are what they call association studies – that shows people with lower vitamin D levels have a higher risk of disease,” he said.
“It’s an amazing nutrient.”