Medicine Cabinet Essentials: Winter Edition
It’s the most wonderful time of the year to be Canadian! The snow is falling and that means enjoying plenty of winter activities in the great outdoors with family and friends. Having fun outdoors is a great winter pastime but the icy temperatures can also lead to less desirable winter events, such as cold and flu.
We would like to discuss the benefits of two important vitamins that are a must in every Canadian medicine cabinet, Vitamin C and Vitamin D. With these warriors by your side throughout the winter months you will be able to enjoy the season in health.
Vitamin C is one of the most familiar supplements around. However, few people really understand how integral it is to your whole-body health.
Vitamin C has many functions in the body, including supporting immunity, helping to heal wounds, maintaining healthy skin and bones, aiding in the formation of collagen, and in tissue growth and repair. It also helps detoxify and cleanse the body from harmful substances through its powerful antioxidant properties.
When your body is fighting an infection, especially during illness, vitamin C is rapidly used up in the body due to its varied roles. Vitamin C not only has antimicrobial activities but it also stimulates the growth of lymphocytes, a type of while blood cell, which responds to an invading pathogen. Among highly active people in the winter taking Vitamin C was shown to cut the occurrence of the common cold by half!
There are other benefits to Vitamin C supplementation. High intakes of vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. This may be due in part to the antioxidant content of these foods, as oxidative damage is a major cause of cardiovascular disease. Vitamin C has been shown to potentially reduce the atherosclerosis—or buildup of fatty plaques inside our blood vessels—by reducing the “stickiness” of immune cells. Furthermore, vitamin C can improve nitric oxide production, a key relaxer of our blood vessels, and extend the lifespan of the smooth muscle cells in our arteries and veins.
The best place to learn more about the variety of vitamin C products is at your local Hooper’s Pharmacy and Vitamin Shop, where you’ll find a wide selection of different forms, including capsules, powders, gummies, liquids and more. Most supplements come in the form of ascorbic acid, which is often how it appears in nature, making the absorption of the supplement good in the digestive tract. If you’re taking high doses, spread them out throughout the day to ensure optimal absorption.
Vitamin C carries with it a wide range of health benefits, from supporting immune health to playing a role in preventing cardiovascular disease. This winter, especially if you’re active and enjoying the great outdoors, consider adding a vitamin C supplement to keep your body in its best shape.
Vitamin D is a steroid hormone essential for many of our body’s vital functions. The most well-known purpose of vitamin D is its role in maintaining bone health. It enables the absorption of calcium from the digestive tract to ensure the body has adequate reserves to build bone tissue. While vitamin D appears in a number of forms, the one that seems to be the most beneficial is D₃ (cholecalciferol).
Over the past couple of decades, research has shown vitamin D to have an essential role in many aspects of our health. Most prominently, elevated vitamin D levels have been linked to decreased risk of breast cancer and colon cancer. In addition, supplemental vitamin D has been linked to decreased risk of auto-immune conditions such a rheumatoid arthritis, protection from mood disorders such as depression, and increasing muscle strength.
An important and underappreciated role of Vitamin D, especially in the winter months, is its function in the immune system. Research shows that having enough vitamin D increases the germ-fighting action of some immune cell types, while increasing the immune cell population, which prepares the body for future infections.
Researchers in Japan found that when school children were supplemented with 1200 IU/day, they were two-times less likely to get the flu than un-supplemented kids. Another study found that intake of 2000 IU/day prevented and reduced the severity of upper respiratory tract infections. This established, yet growing, body of research highlights the need for Canadians to ensure they obtain enough vitamin D to optimize their body’s functioning.
Vitamin D is often called the “sunshine” vitamin due to its production in the skin when exposed to sunlight. In the summer months, vitamin D production is maximized after about 10 minutes of mid-day sun exposure. However, between late October and March, the tilt of the Earth’s axis scatters UV-B rays through the atmosphere, meaning that there is no vitamin D produced in the skin of those living in the Northern Hemisphere. This, coupled with an indoor lifestyle, has resulted in Canadians having chronically low levels of vitamin D with some estimates suggesting the 70-97% of Canadians have insufficient levels.
Natural, unfortified foods are rare and low in vitamin D, with the exception of certain mushrooms species. An excellent, safe and cost-effective way to ensure you have optimal vitamin D levels is to consume a vitamin D supplement daily, particularly during the winter months. There are many products available at different dosages and different forms including tablets, capsules, or liquid drops.
When selecting a vitamin D supplement, make sure it comes in the “vitamin D₃ form. This form is called “cholecalciferol” is the active form in the body. Some products are sold in the plant-based “vitamin D₂” form, which has been shown to be much less active in the body.
As with any change to your daily health routine, always consult your healthcare practitioners.