Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin” because it’s produced within the body when the sun hits the skin. But many people turn to supplements in cooler months of the year when cold and dark days limit time spent outdoors.
As it turns out Vitamin D is a bit mislabeled. While we call vitamin D a vitamin, it is actually considered to be a hormone. Vitamin D is essential for the development and maintenance of strong bones and muscles while also helping your body to fight off infections and colds. An especially essential function during those nasty cold and flu seasons. Plus, Vitamin D helps your body to repair skin cells and keep your hormones balanced.
With all of those benefits said, is there any meriet to taking a little extra vitamin D in the winter? Or is the sunshine vitamin somthing you can skip? Find out below!
Winter’s Impact On Vitamin D Levels
Does the seasonal weather affect your vitamin D levels? The simple answer is yes! Studies have shown a drop in vitamin D during the winter, which contributes to the fact that nearly half of Americans are deficient. In the summer months, your body can produce up to 20,000 IUs of vitamin D by being in the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. But in the winter, leaving for work and returning home in the dark means that you are exposed to much less of this vital vitamin.
Not getting enough vitamin D doesn’t only result in a winter slump, a full-fledged vitamin D deficiency packs some major drawbacks and risks. Among the early signs of vitamin D deficiency are muscle pain, problems walking, unexplained fatigue, and overall weakness. While a more advanced deficiency can result in deep bone pain and fractures. Also, low levels of vitamin D have been linked to higher rates of heart and vascular disease.
How To Best Supplement Vitamin D
Taking a Vitamin D supplement is a great way to combat the winter blues, because while getting sun exposure is your body’s fastest way to produce Vitamin D it’s not always accessible. Recommended amounts of skin exposure to the sun vary by factors such as skin type, where you live, and season, according to the Vitamin D Council. If you can, get outside during your lunch break—even for just a 10- to 15-minute walk. But in places like Boston, Salt Lake City, or Seattle, exposure to solar ultraviolet rays isn’t strong enough in winter to fuel vitamin D production in the skin. In this case, popping a vitamin D supplement in winter can help you avoid deficiencies since you aren’t getting enough naturally.
Adults need 600 IUs of vitamin D each day, which can be sourced through a combination of diet, sunlight, or supplements. Foods that contain vitamin D include fatty fish like salmon, as well as fish liver oils. While in some countries, including the United States and Canada, supplements cereals and milk with vitamin D additives. However, because very few foods have enough vitamin D to reach those levels, and sunshine can be unreliable in certain climates, chances are that you will need that vitamin D supplements.
If you are in search of a vitamin D supplement but aren’t sure which one to take, a simple answer could be to take cod liver oil. Along with the other benefits of omega and fatty acids, one tablespoon of cod liver oil provides far more than the government’s recommended daily intake, a great alternative if you are looking for supplementation with multiple benefits.
Benefits of Taking Vitamin D
Now that we’ve established that vitamin D is an essential component of daily health, let’s talk about what else this little vitamin can do!
Ward Off Winter Blues
Research shows that higher levels of vitamin D may lead to lower depressive symptoms. This may be due to the fact that our brain has vitamin D receptors. “Low levels of vitamin D may contribute to issues with mood. That’s because it’s a nutrient that helps the body make neurotransmitters—chemical messengers that help regulate our mood” according to a study done by the Journal of Nutritional Science.
Boost Your Immune System
In an international study that looked at nearly 11,000 people over 25 clinical trials, researchers found that those with lower levels of vitamin D who then took a daily or weekly supplement were shown to cut their risk of an acute respiratory infection (such as pneumonia or the flu) and an upper respiratory infection (like a cold and sinus infection).
May Help Prevent Cancer
Higher Vitamin D levels are associated with a decreased risk of colorectal cancer, and Vitamin D is thought to play a role in the prevention of certain cancers—specifically breast, colorectal, and prostate. However, the exact role that Vitamin D plays in each type of cancer is still being studied and is not well understood.
It’s also not clear if low Vitamin D levels have an underlying role in cancer development, or if lower levels are a side effect. Some have suggested higher doses for cancer prevention, but the amount needed to possibly provide prevention, without harm, is unknown. Short-term studies suggest there is no change in cancer risk when higher dose of Vitamin D supplements are taken. However, there are no studies looking at long-term consumption and impact on cancer risk.
Increase Bone Density
Consuming adequate Vitamin D (along with calcium) is key for bone health and prevention of osteoporosis, and the RDA is set to provide sufficient amounts for bone health. But some have speculated that more may be needed; others have questioned if consuming more than the RDA provides extra protection or can make up for past years of low intake.
Based on a January 2019 study, high doses of Vitamin D (above recommendations) do not appear to reduce the risk of fractures or falls in the elderly or provide any extra protection. What appears to be the most important is getting enough Vitamin D on a daily basis. And if you weren’t diligent about getting Vitamin D and calcium in earlier years, your best bet is to start consuming adequate amounts now.