Daylight savings has come and we have had our first snow dusting in the Twin Cities. It is time to start considering the risk of vitamin D deficiency — the days are getting shorter and a tad drearier, especially here. I never actually realized this, but it gets darker earlier up north since we are further from the equator. This means less hours of sunshine and less direct sun rays, which can be a bit of a problem since sunlight is the best source of vitamin D. 

Vitamin D is essential to the body for maintaining proper amounts of calcium and phosphorus in the blood. Vitamin D also aids in the absorption of calcium which helps keep our bones nice and strong. According to the Mayo clinic, vitamin D deficiency could cause rickets, or malformation of bones, in children and osteomalacia, or weakened bones and muscles in adults. Low levels of vitamin D is also thought to cause depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder in some individuals, with fall and winter being especially high risk times.  The FDA’s daily recommendations for vitamin D are 600IU for ages 1-70 and 800IU for those over the age of 70, but according to other research this might just be the bare minimum. So what are ways we can obtain the needed vitamin D during the darker winter months and avoid vitamin D deficiency?

Dietary sources typically only make up for 20% of our overall vitamin D intake, but it doesn’t hurt to load up on these foods during times of lower sunlight.  Here are few foods to help you avoid vitamin D deficiency: Fatty fish such as tuna, mackerel or salmon. Six ounces of salmon contains over 600IU of vitamin D. Eggs (in the yolk). Fortified foods such as milk, orange juice, soy milk and cereals. Beef liver. Cod liver oil (if you get desperate) which used to be a very common vitamin D supplement.

Get all the sunlight you can in the winter. Again, sunlight is the best way for your body to get vitamin D. In a time when we are all worried about skin cancer, it is still recommended that we get a moderate amount of sun for vitamin D production. The body actually stores extra vitamin D in the fat cells to avoid seasonal deficiency.   On a sunny day during the spring or summer for someone with moderately tanned skin and moderately close to the equator (yes, a little unspecific), it only takes being outside for 15 minutes with face and hands uncovered (including no sunscreen) for the body to produce enough vitamin D. During the winter, try to walk outside for 15-20 minutes during the sunniest part of the day several times per week, if not daily.

Recommendations for the amount of sunlight needed can be tricky since adequate vitamin D production is based on a number of factors. First of all, the darker your skin, the more difficult it is for the UVB light to penetrate and produce vitamin D. It also depends on where you live. The further away from the equator you are, the less direct UVB rays you get. It also depends on the time of the year, and as we discussed, the winter months produce the low amounts of sunshine.

Cautious tanning bed usage. Although large amounts of time spent in a tanning bed are not recommended due to the risk of skin cancer, these beds still produce UVB light that your body can turn into vitamin D. The Vitamin D Vouncil recommends caution with tanning beds, but still suggests a short period of time in a bed that contains more UVB than UVA light. The rule of thumb recommended by The Council is half the amount of time it takes your skin to turn pink (for a freckled gal like me this is probably about 4-5 minutes).

Supplements are also an option. Always be careful when taking supplements as you never want to over dose, especially on a fat soluble vitamin such as vitamin D. The upper tolerable level for vitamin D is set to 10,000 IU for all forms of vitamin D.

Low levels of sunlight can be a bummer for the mood and the body, but you can easily obtain the vitamin D you need though adequate UV rays, foods, and supplements to keep happy and healthy during the winter months. Avoiding vitamin D deficiency is easy and can result in vast improvements in your health. (Always check with your doctor before taking new supplements, starting a new diet, or using a tanning bed.)  

Tell me…

Are you affected by the dark days of winter?

Have you ever had cod liver oil?

Sources for “Vitamin D Deficiency in Winter:”

Originally posted 2013-11-21 09:45:29.

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