Health benefits of vitamin D in the winter
Winter has a lot of benefits, like ski vacations, cozy puffer jackets, and giant mugs of hot cocoa. But one of the seasonal downsides of the winter months is the typical lack of sunlight. It’s not purely an aesthetic issue: sunlight is essential for the body to product vitamin D, which affects a range of health issues. So if you find that you’re more tired or sad during the winter months, chances are, it’s due to a lack of vitamin D (know more about Vitamin D on Wikipedia)!
The effects of a vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D isn’t just termed “the sunshine vitamin” due to its dependence on the sun, though that is the main reason. Vitamin D does not naturally occur in very many foods, so your body makes it in response to sunlight. However, vitamin D has also earned this nickname because it has a huge effect on your mood. Low levels of vitamin D can leave you tired, cranky, and generally feeling in poor health.
Not only does a vitamin D deficiency sap your energy levels, it can leave you more immune to getting sick. That’s because a healthy level of vitamin D is essential for the immune system to function properly. And because illness leaves you feeling extra tired, and fatigue lowers your immune system further, a vitamin D deficiency can set you up for a vicious cycle of colds and exhaustion.
Doctors also are beginning to believe that a vitamin D deficiency can contribute to larger health problems like obesity, cancer, and memory loss, though these findings are not yet proven. And of course vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, which is necessary for strong bones, especially critical for young women.
Diagnosing a deficiency
Your doctor can run blood tests to determine if you are deficient in vitamin D and would benefit from a supplement, and you should always check with your doctor before self-diagnosing or deciding to add a new vitamin to your daily routine.
However, many doctors now recommend that all adults take a vitamin D supplement of about 1,000 units daily, as it’s now commonly believed that almost all adults are deficient in the vitamin and such a low daily dose does not have any adverse side effects.
If you’re feeling extra tired, getting sick more often than usual, feel “down” for no reason, or just lack energy, you should ask your doctor if a vitamin D supplement could help you feel better.
How to get enough vitamin D
It might seem like hitting the tanning bed is the answer to a probable vitamin D deficiency, but this isn’t the case. Tanning carries other risks like cancer, so doctors don’t advise tanning even to treat low levels of vitamin D. Instead, you can take vitamin D supplements, which are available at drugstores and health food stores. They typically range from 400 to 5,000 units, so ask your doctor what strength you should be using.
While it is true that there are very few food sources of vitamin D, it’s always a good idea to try to get your vitamins from natural food sources; so look for foods like salmon, soy milk, mushrooms and oatmeal, which have higher levels of vitamin D. You can also frequently find foods that are fortified with higher levels of calcium and vitamin D, such as orange juice, to replace your regular grocery picks.