Vitamin D: An Important Nutrient That Protects You Against Falls and Fractures

Osteoporosis Vitamin DVitamin D is very important for bone health. It helps build stronger bones, partly by increasing the absorption of calcium. Vitamin D also improves the function of muscles, which in turn improves your balance and decreases the likelihood of falling. Vitamin D is therefore doubly essential in helping protect you against fractures.

Vitamin D comes from the sun. The sun’s rays interact with our skin to produce vitamin D that can be used for bone and muscle health. In Canada, because we live in a northern climate, we don’t get as much sun as we need; and when we apply sunscreen in the summer, that disables the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D from sun exposure. Additionally, as we age, the skin’s ability to make vitamin D decreases and for all of these reasons, many Canadians are low on vitamin D.  

There are very few food sources of vitamin D. In fact, it is impossible for adults to get sufficient vitamin D from diet alone, no matter how good their nutrition. Therefore, Osteoporosis Canada recommends routine vitamin D supplementation for all Canadian adults year round. Healthy adults between19-50 years of age, including pregnant or breast feeding women, require 400 – 1,000 IU daily. Those over 50 or those younger adults at high risk (with osteoporosis, multiple fractures, or conditions affecting vitamin D absorption) should receive 800 – 2,000 IU daily. These amounts are safe.  Taking more than 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily should be done only under medical supervision.

The best way to ensure that you are getting sufficient vitamin D is by taking a supplement. The type of vitamin D you should purchase is vitamin D3 (also called cholecalciferol). This is the most common type of vitamin D found in supplements in Canada. 

Vitamin D by itself comes in 400 and 1000 IU tablets. Most multivitamins contain some vitamin D but the amounts vary quite a bit, so be sure to read the small print on the label carefully. Some calcium supplements also contain vitamin D3 and again the amounts vary. If you are unclear how much vitamin D your supplements contain, please check with your pharmacist.

There is something special about Vitamin D that does not apply to most other vitamins or supplements.  Vitamin D is fat soluble. This means vitamin D can be “made up.” If you miss your vitamin D today, for example, you can take double the amount tomorrow. If you miss your vitamin D for a whole week, you can take all the vitamin D that you missed altogether at the end of the week. However, you shouldn’t do this on a regular basis  without consulting with your physician and this can only be done with vitamin D. It cannot be done with other medications or supplements.

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