Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin, and its essential to maintaining optimal health and a robust immune system. The main source of this critical nutrient is the sun. During hard Northeastern winters, it can be almost impossible to get all the vitamin D we need. Now I am not saying you need to dress for your next mountain adventure quite as risque as the woman in the image but…
Researchers have found that having a vitamin D deficiency can lead to a broad range of (sometimes severe) health problems and also contribute to chronic disorders, which include:
If you want to maintain healthy levels of Vitamin D, especially if you’re living through a brutal Northeast Winter, or any snowy climate, keep reading to learn about the different ways you can get the vitamin D you need.
The Dangers of Vitamin D Deficiency
According to the journal Nutrition Research, approximately 42 percent of US adults are vitamin D deficient. That’s bad news for health. A variety of health risks are associated with Vitamin D deficiency. Worse, if you’re diagnosed with a serious health issue like breast or prostate cancer, the chances of survival could be much lower than for someone who has normal levels.
According to study author, Kimberly Y.Z. Forrest, there are specific factors which increase your risk of being vitamin D deficient, “Being from a non-white race, not college educated, obese, having low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, poor health, and no daily milk consumption were all significantly, independently associated with vitamin D deficiency.”
Too Little Vitamin D Can Make You S.A.D
Vitamin D deficiency can significantly increase the chances of experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also called winter depression.
This is a mental condition which can cause people to experience a depressed mood during the winter season. SAD is still a mystery to many healthcare professionals, and there are different schools of thought regarding its cause, but most will agree that it could be at least partly related to a combination of light sensitivity, brain chemistry, and Vitamin D deficiency.
The symptoms of SAD can appear like those of major depressive disorder and may include:
- Decreased energy
- Increased appetite
- Increased desire for sleep
- Loss of interest in activities
- Carbohydrate cravings
- Weight gain
A reason why Vitamin D deficiency could cause SAD is that it naturally boosts serotonin, the brain chemical responsible for processes like digestion, mood, sleep, and hunger. When humans experience a drop in serotonin levels, our mood drops, and we may experience cravings as a way to increase those levels. Carbs, as well as nicotine or caffeine, will briefly increase serotonin levels to improve our mood temporarily. Unfortunately, we eventually get desensitized to all this excess serotonin, which can cause cravings to intensify.
Besides excess abdominal fat, other signs of Vitamin D deficiency may include depression, persistent musculoskeletal pain, frequent chest colds, inflammatory diseases, and even some autoimmune diseases.
How Does the Body get vitamin D from the Sun?
The body synthesizes large amounts of cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) when skin is exposed to sunlight. The minimum time needed to make vitamin D depends on the skin color of each person. Individuals with very light skin may need only 10 minutes in the sun to stimulate the body to produce vitamin D. Those with very dark skin could require up to 30 minutes or longer to make a significant amount of vitamin D.
But, on average a person will need about 15-20 minutes of sun on face arms and legs about three times a week for the body to produce enough vitamin D. Of course, the more skin that’s exposed, the more vitamin D you’ll make. You don’t need to risk sunburn or even get a tan to get the vitamin D you need.
A crucial factor that affects the amount of vitamin D you make is the time of day. The optimum time of day to be in the sun for the skin to make the most vitamin D is about noon when the sun’s rays strike the ground most directly.
Does Summertime Vitamin D Last through the Winter?
Yes, it’s possible for the vitamin D your body makes from sun exposure to meet most of your needs all winter long. But, possibly doesn’t mean it will.
For this to help you, you need first to get enough vitamin D during the warm weather months. Unfortunately, many of us just can’t. Most Americans are vitamin D deficient even in the summer months for a variety of reasons:
- Working all day at indoor jobs
- Slathering on extremely high SPF sunscreen anytime they go out
- Actively avoiding the sun from fear of skin damage
So, the majority of us get nowhere near the amount of vitamin D we need in the summer, and yet we depend on this hypothetical vitamin D surplus to keep us healthy all winter.
If you live around the northern circle of latitude that’s 37 degrees above of Earth’s equator, the sun’s rays just don’t hit your location at the optimal angle to get vitamin D producing rays on your skin during fall and winter, making vitamin D production from the sun impossible. Visualize a line across the US from Northern California to Pennsylvania; anyone living over this line had better look for alternative sources of Vitamin D from November through March.
The bottom line is: If you’re well-tanned from the sun at the beginning of winter from lots of daily sun exposure over the summer, then you may indeed have enough vitamin D stored to make it through to spring. If not, then its likely that you’ll need to find another way.
If You Think You’re Vitamin D Deficient, Consider Getting Tested
If you suspect that you’re vitamin D deficient, consider having your blood levels checked by your doctor. Recent studies indicate that it’s best to maintain your vitamin D levels above 30 nanograms/milliliter. Someone who has levels below this amount may need to consume a higher dose vitamin supplement but only do so on the advice of your doctor.
Now That You Know Here is How to Eliminate it or Avoid It Altogether
Although it sounds challenging to be able to do it’s not that hard. The key is to get outside during the winter and allow some sunlight on your skin. This doesn’t mean that you have to join a polar bear club and go skinny dipping in a frozen lake every Winter. What it does mean is that you should take advantage of that Sunny Winter day and take your hat and hood off if it’s warm enough and let that sunshine in. Having a Winter sport that you are passionate about really helps.
Even Indoor tanning is better than nothing and will produce Vitamin D for you.
Ways to Get Vitamin D without the Sun
Eat healthy, vitamin D rich foods like these every day:
Other good sources are, vitamin D fortified milk, yogurt, and vitamin-fortified orange juice.
Of course, the quickest and easiest way is to take a vitamin D supplement year-round. It’s best to ask a doctor regarding the most effective amount to take. Although, for people with healthy vitamin D levels, 1,000 to 2,000 International Units (IU) of vitamin D every day will help maintain optimal levels.
Use your newfound awareness of Vitamin D and how your body creates and uses it to help you feel healthy and happy this Winter.