The taste of your favourite refreshing drink has long dissipated from your palette, the chlorinated water has long evaporated off your skin, and the tan has long faded leaving glimpses of your original pigmentation behind. Winter is coming. Are you ready for it? Even if you are, science says that your Vitamin D levels are not.

Canadians should be concerning themselves with fulfilling their daily quota of the ‘sunshine vitamin,’ which Health Canada recommends to be 1300 mg for children 9-18 years old, and 1000 mg for adults 19-50 years old. An article released by the Vitamin D Society of Canada on Aug. 3 firmly urges that Canadians make changes, following the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition in the United Kingdom’s recommendation for inhabitants of the UK to increase their own intake: “Much like the UK, Canada shares the same sunshine limitations, which means because of the northern latitude of both countries, Vitamin D producing sunlight can only be captured by our skin between the months of May and October.” This means that from (roughly) November to April, our bodies do not extract as much of the vitamin from natural sunlight, leaving us traversing a slow decline into deficiency.

Dr. Susan Whiting, a professor of nutrition and dietetics at the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition at the University of Saskatchewan, and a member of the Vitamin D Society of Canada, explains the current condition of the two countries saying, “Canada implemented fortification and, after adopting several strategies, what we have today is: milk and margarine (mandatory), plus (the allowance) of some foods (that) add Vitamin D… This gives us a 200 IU average intake. It does not meet the current RDA of 600 IU but keeps most — 93 per cent — of Canadians above the cut-off for risk of severe deficiency. In contrast, the UK has not allowed much fortification, has ignored Vitamin D these past decades, and so has [a quarter] of the population at severe risk.” Canadians have taken steps in the right direction, but we are still sub-par.

Fortunately, we are citizens of an incredibly accommodating country which means that there are ways to keep ourselves healthy during the long winter months. Dr. Whiting expands on some alternative sources of Vitamin D aside from natural sunlight. “There are only three sources of Vitamin D: food, sun, supplement. In winter, a supplement is essential. One could recommend eating oily fish — salmon, etc.– more often; (this is) pricier than a supplement, but (it) offers omega-3 fats which are good too.”

Whiting mentions, “Alternatives include: tanning salons that understand Vitamin D synthesis and use bulbs for synthesis — Note: UVB burns, so some salons use UVA bulbs which would not promote synthesis. Taking a trip south (would be ideal), but hardly cost-effective compared to a $10 supplement.”

Whiting also supplemented these suggestions with a fascinating fact about our skin’s reaction to tanning: “Tanning occurs to prevent UVB entering top skin layer and so the body begins to adapt to the increased UVB.  One cannot ‘overdo it’ with UVB in terms of making too much Vitamin D as there are mechanisms in the skin to prevent this. (It is) very interesting how we can self-regulate skin synthesis.”

The sunshine vitamin is an extremely important cog in the complex mechanism that is the human body. According to the professionals that contribute to the med-web resource ‘Healthline,’ Vitamin D regulates the absorption of calcium and phosphorous, which contributes to bone development and immune system functionality.

Whiting provides an in-depth explanation of the role Vitamin D plays in terms of calcium uptake. “Vitamin D does a lot of different actions as it’s a gene activator. In the intestine it increases production of proteins that allow for calcium absorption to be highly efficient. It also has direct action in bones for bone remodelling and in the kidney to regulate excretion of calcium and phosphate (the other constituent of bone mineral),” she says.

A Vitamin D deficiency puts people at risk for bone abnormalities such as osteomalacia or osteoporosis, both which are characterized by the weakness and brittleness of bones. Because of the vitamin’s ties to proper immune functioning, a deficiency can also increase chances of developing multiple sclerosis, heart disease, and influenza.

Along with exploring its direct impact on bones and immune systems, Healthline also highlights that Vitamin D also regulates mood, thus warding off deviations such as depression.  “Scientists found that people with depression who received Vitamin D supplements noticed an improvement in their symptoms,” they said.

Aside from the plentiful psychological benefits, another great side effect of keeping your levels in check is maintenance of a healthy weight! The benefits of obtaining enough of the sunshine vitamin are unquestionable; the sooner we adapt and make changes in our lifestyles, the longer we will be able to enjoy healthier days.