The Importance of Vitamin D During the Winter Season
Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is essential to your overall health and well-being. It can help prevent all types of diseases to include cancer, diabetes, tuberculosis, immune disorders, osteoporosis, depression, obesity, arthritis, the flu and more. Most Americans, Canadians, Australians, those living in the U.K. and other industrialized countries are deficient in vitamin D.
This wide-spread deficiency stems from the fact that individuals are mostly remaining indoors and are taught that sun exposure is detrimental to their health. On the contrary, without vitamin D production from the sunlight, it’s extremely difficult to get all of the vitamin D you need to experience optimal health. If you work or stay indoors a lot and don’t get much exposure to the sun, you can benefit from a high quality vitamin D supplement, especially during the winter months.
How Does Sunlight Create Vitamin D in Your Body?
Sunlight contains ultraviolet or (UV) rays that are capable of producing vitamin D in your body. To make vitamin D, the UV rays must come in direct contact with your skin. It’s important to note that UV rays cannot penetrate glass, meaning that you cannot make any Vitamin D sitting in your car or by a window at home or work.
Are You At Risk of Being Vitamin D Deficient?
Location. If you live north of the line connecting San Francisco to Philadelphia and Athens to Beijing, chances are that you aren’t getting enough vitamin D. Factors that contribute to this are limited amounts of sunshine, air pollution and excessive clouds.
Skin Color. Case studies have shown that African-Americans and individuals with dark skin tend to have much lower levels of vitamin D. Lighter skin color allows deeper penetration by UV rays, which decreases the amount of sunlight exposure needed for adequate vitamin D production. If you have darker skin, it's harder for UV rays to penetrate your skin and create vitamin D, which means that you need greater exposure to sunlight than someone with lighter skin.
Season. Research has shown an increase in those who are diagnosed with depression during the winter months due to lack of vitamin D. When sun exposure is limited, it’s best to take a high quality supplement.
Age. As we age, natural degenerative changes take place in our skin making it harder for UV rays to produce vitamin D. Taking Vitamin D supplements and Vitamin D therapy treatments have proven beneficial in this case.
Why Do I Need Vitamin D?
As mentioned earlier, vitamin D is crucial in disease prevention. Most notably cancer to include breast, ovarian, prostate, colon, esophagus, pancreas and leukemia. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Medicine in 2007 found that women who took 1,100 IUs of vitamin D and 1200 mg of calcium daily reduced their risk of developing cancer by 70% (1).
Vitamin D helps to regulate the immune system and increases calcium absorption which leads to strong healthy bones.
It also has the ability to improve cognitive functions and decrease the chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Vitamin D aids in regulating the production of hormones. Spending even a little time in the sun has been shown to decrease symptoms of PMS or menopause.
Our brains have an internal clock which naturally sets when we are in the sun causing melatonin production which aids in providing a good night’s sleep.
Vitamin D production increases both white and red blood cell count and helps the blood to circulate more efficiently.
Vitamin D supports cardiovascular health. In combination with calcium, vitamin D has been shown to have beneficial effects for heart health, especially in overweight women who are losing weight.
The Importance of Taking Vitamin D and Calcium Together
It's important to note that when taking a vitamin D supplment, it must be taken in combination with calcium. Calcium is a mineral that is found naturally in foods and is necessary for many normal functions of your body, especially bone formation and maintenance. Vitamin D is important for the absorption of calcium from the stomach and for the functioning of calcium in the body. Calcium and vitamin D combination is used to prevent or to treat a calcium deficiency.
Before taking a calcium supplement, it's best to get your calcium comes from organic reliable food sources that include dark, leafy vegetables, such as bok choy, kale, turnips, spinach and broccoli. Other sources of calcium can include salmon and sardines that have been canned with bones, tofu, dried beans, various nuts, figs and apricots. Whole grains also contain a limited amount of calcium, but are not typically a reliable source.
How Do You Know if You’re Vitamin D Deficient?
The only real way to know if you are deficient in vitamin D is via blood test. As a routine practice, I have my blood work completed annually and make a point to ask that my vitamin D levels are also checked. The test is called the 25-hydroxy D. Your numbers should be within the 50-60 range. Case studies have shown that individuals within this range reduce their risk of chronic disease and live longer. This number will help you determine what you need to do to get your number within this healthy range.
Sunshine, Exercise and Supplements
Now that you know how important vitamin D is to your health, make the decision to incorporate healthy lifestyle adjustments such spending time outside doing something that you enjoy. Whatever you choose to do is up to you. This can be 15-30 minutes of walking outside daily in your neighborhood, local park or beach. Even consider packing up the kids and spending time at the beach.
Dr. Michael Holick, a professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics who’s been studying vitamin D for over 30 years, says, “Every tissue and cell in your body has a vitamin D receptor. We estimate that as many as 2,000 genes are directly or indirectly regulated by vitamin D.”
Because most individuals don’t get enough vitamin D, Dr. Holick recommends taking 2,000IU of vitamin D daily for adults and 1,000IU daily for teens and children aged 1+. Other experts on vitamin D recommend even higher daily intakes of the sunshine vitamin—anywhere from 4,000IUs to 5,000IUs.
Vitamin D Supplement Recommendation
Garden of Life, Vitamin Code D3. In my opinion, this is by far one of the most superior and affordable whole food vitamin D supplements around. It’s made from non-GMO organic fruits and vegetables and contains 5,000 IU of vitamin D per capsule. Because it is a whole food supplement it works in perfect harmony with your body. It’s imperative that your body has healthy amounts of vitamin D. As with any supplement or medication, be sure to consult your physician prior to taking vitamin D to determine if taking this supplement is right for you. Ensuring that you have the adequate levels can lead to optimal health and improve your quality of life.
1. Lappe JM, Travers-Gustafson D, Davies KM, Recker RR, Heaney RP. Vitamin D and calcium supplementation reduces cancer risk: results of a randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr 2007; 85(6):1586-1591.