Winter and the Sunshine Vitamin

Vitamin D is called the "sunshine vitamin" because your body makes it when sunlight hits the skin.

Getting enough vitamin D is crucial for your long-term health. Most of the year, it’s relatively easy to get vitamin D through sun exposure, but that changes in winter. Vitamin D is called the “sunshine vitamin” because your body makes it when sunlight hits the skin. During the darker, winter months, it’s more important to keep your vitamin D levels up because you are at greater risk for getting sick and tend to spend less time outdoors.

What is vitamin D?

The term “vitamin D” refers to several different forms of this vitamin. Two forms are important in humans: vitamin D-2, which is made by plants, and vitamin D-3, which is made by human skin when exposed to sunlight. Foods may be fortified with vitamin D-2 or D-3.

The major role of vitamin D is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which forms and maintains strong bones. It is used alone or together with calcium to improve bone health and decrease fractures. Vitamin D may also protect against osteoporosis, high blood pressure, cancer, and other diseases.

Vitamin D is found in many foods, including fish, eggs, fortified milk, and cod liver oil. The sun also adds to the body’s daily production of vitamin D, and as little as 10 minutes of exposure is thought to prevent deficiency.

What are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency?

The symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are often vague, but can include tiredness and general aches and pains.  Part of the difficulty in detecting D deficiency is that most people won’t have any symptoms at all.  Severe vitamin D deficiency might cause pain in your bones and weakness, or even frequent infections.  If you suspect you might be deficient in D, see your physician, or have a blood test to check your vitamin D levels.

How can you increase your vitamin D levels?

Even though the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are subtle, there are many ways to prevent or counteract it.

  1. Sunlight encourages the body to make vitamin D. This becomes more difficult in gray, snowy weather. However, just a small amount of sun exposure can do the trick.  So even if it’s cold, if the sun is shining, try to get outside for a bit.  Go for a walk or just stand in the sun and soak in those rays.
  2. Fortified Milk can be a good source of vitamin D.  Almost all types of cow’s milk in the U.S. is fortified with vitamin D, but ice cream and cheese are not. In general, an 8-ounce glass of milk contains at least 100 IUs of vitamin D, and a 6-ounce serving of yogurt contains 80 IUs, but the amount can be higher (or lower) depending on how much is added. Some soy, almond, oat, and rice milks are fortified with about the same amount, but check the label since not all contain vitamin D.
  3. Supplements are an excellent choice for maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D.  But be careful, not all supplements are the same.  Look for a minimum of 800 IU per serving as well as one that includes the recommended D-3.  Vitamin D-3 Melts from Dr. Newton’s Naturals is a fast melt tablet that quickly disperses under the tongue and contains 5000 IU of cholecalciferol, one of the most effective, potent, and safe forms of D-3.

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