As I watch the first snows of November flying horizontal past my window, I am reminded that the days of sunshine and warm weather are at a premium for several months now. This is the point of the year that reminds me of all of the outdoor projects I left unfinished that will be frozen or under snow until I can get to them next year. My procrastination aside, I am also one who deals with health risks and prevention activities for a living and it also reminds me of the lack of ability to get out in the sunshine to keep vitamin D levels at optimal levels throughout our long, cold, Wyoming winters.
Vitamin D could be called the vitamin du jour the last several years. The medical community has long been aware of the need and importance of this vitamin, and research activities over recent times have done nothing but further the reach of the essential functions of appropriate levels of vitamin D in our bodies. However, due to the unique nature of vitamin D and the numerous functions within our bodies, doctors continue working to fully understand how vitamin D works and how it affects our overall health.
Some of the known functions and systems of the body aided by vitamin D include:
- the immune system
- muscle function
- cardiovascular function
- respiratory system
- brain development
- and anti-cancer effects
The actual physiological functions of vitamin D are very complicated, but the simplest way to think of vitamin D in our bodies is two-fold: vitamin D manages calcium in our blood, bones, and gut while helping cells all over our body communicate properly.
Doctors have long established that a severe deficiency of vitamin D can result in conditions called rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults - the effects of these conditions are soft, thin, and brittle bones. Further research has linked vitamin D deficiency to conditions such as cancer, asthma, type-II diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, Alzheimer's and autoimmune diseases (multiple sclerosis, Crohn's, and type-I diabetes). As research continues and more knowledge of vitamin D and its role surfaces, the list of conditions linked to deficiency may continue to grow.
In comparison to other vitamins and minerals our bodies require, vitamin D is unique in that our bodies can actually make its own via regular sunlight exposure and it is generally not essential to acquire this vitamin through dietary or supplemental sources. While sunlight exposure is the most available way to increase vitamin D production and reserves, we live in a climate where skin exposure to sunlight is not readily available or feasible – skin cancer concerns in the summer and bitter cold winters do not bode well for regular sunlight exposure. The natural assumption to acquire vitamin D in absence of adequate sunlight would be food. According to Grandma, all good things come from eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, right? In reality, there are very few foods that contain naturally-occurring vitamin D. Most food sources of vitamin D are fortified, meaning that vitamin is added to the food to boost its nutritional value. Non-fortified foods considered good sources of vitamin D are cod liver oil, swordfish, salmon, and tuna, with sardines, beef liver, and eggs containing acceptable amounts of vitamin D.
While there are no obvious signs or symptoms of vitamin D deficiency, we all should discuss vitamin D with our health care practitioners and determine if we are at an increased risk of deficiency or if supplemental vitamin D is a good choice. Especially as the shorter, colder days continue to creep closer, it doesn't hurt to have your blood tested for vitamin D levels to ensure there are adequate levels to maintain our bodies throughout the winter.
Want to know if you are getting enough Vitamin D?
Get tested in November and save $15 on the healthCHECK+ Vitamin D Panel (regularly $45). Print off this coupon and use it before December 31, 2015:
Campbell County Health's Wellness Department works to reduce health risks and promote overall wellness among employee groups and individuals across the northeastern Wyoming region. To learn more about Wellness, please visit
cchwyo.org/Wellness or call 307.688.8051.
This blog was written by Troy Stevens, CCH Wellness Specialist
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