When old man winter hits, most people take shelter by spending days and weeks on end indoors. Meaning, you not only expose yourself to possible seasonal depression or cabin fever, but you are likely not getting enough vitamin D during these months. Those who live in particularly cold or harsh winter climates may not spend enough time in the sun all year long, putting them at greater risk for a deficiency.
Additionally, if you work indoors, and only head outdoors under the full protection of sunblock, sunglasses and a hat, you’re doing a great job of protecting yourself from skin cancer and protecting yourself from early aging. However, you’re also blocking your body from receiving enough vitamin D. While you certainly shouldn’t spend time in the sun unprotected, you do need an adequate amount of vitamin D for essential body function and immune health.
If you think you might not get enough vitamin D, you’re not alone. In fact, an estimated one billion people across the globe have insufficient levels of the essential vitamin, and this is not a vitamin you want to go without.
The only foolproof way to know for sure that you have a deficiency is through blood testing. However, if you experience one or more of the following, you may want to look further into testing or express your concerns to your doctor.
- You have a darker skin tone.
Those with darker skin tones have a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency. The reason being, if you have dark skin, you need about 10 times more sun exposure to produce the same amount of vitamin D as those with fair skin tones.
Those with darker skin tones have more pigmentation in their skin, which acts as a natural sunscreen, meaning you have to spend more time in the sun to get the same effect. With that being said, those with dark and fair skin alike need to use adequate sun protection when outside for long periods of time. It’s okay to spend about 15 minutes without sun protection, but any longer than that, and you are putting yourself at risk for skin cancer.
- You’re older than 50.
As you age, your skin doesn’t produce as much vitamin D in response to sun exposure. Combine that with the fact that a lot of older adults spend more time indoors, and you can see why there would be a lack of the essential vitamin.
- You feel blue.
Just as we previously mentioned above, a lot of people experience seasonal depression during the winter months. This makes sense, as bright light (i.e. the sun) increases serotonin, the hormone that is responsible for elevating your mood. Likewise, the hormone falls with the decreased amount of sun exposure. Studies have shown that people who generally experience symptoms of depression and/or are diagnosed with depression, often have lower vitamin D levels.
- You’re overweight.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble, hormone-like mineral, meaning body fat collects it. So, a person who is overweight or obese, or who even weighs more due to muscle mass, is going to need more vitamin D for the same effect than a person with a healthier weight.
- Your bones ache.
Do you often experience aches and pains, along with feelings of fatigue? This is a classic sign of a vitamin D deficiency; however, a lot of people who complain of throbbing or aching bones get misdiagnosed with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.
- You experience head sweating.
A sweaty head is often one of the first signs you may experience when your body lacks vitamin D.
- You feel it in your gut.
As we previously mentioned, vitamin D is fat-soluble. This makes it hard for your body to absorb the vitamin if you have gastrointestinal conditions such as Crohn’s, celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and inflammatory bowel disease.
More symptoms that indicate a possible vitamin D deficiency include:
- Frequent bone breaks/fractures
- Inadequate bone growth in children
- Muscle weaknesses and aches
- Frequent colds, flus, and respiratory tract infections
- General lethargy
You might have noticed that a lot of the symptoms also appear to be signs that you or your children aren’t getting enough calcium. That’s because vitamin D is vital in calcium absorption. While the symptoms, such as feeling depressed, and aching muscles and bones are able to disappear once you treat your deficiency, going too long without diagnosis or letting the deficiency go on for too long may lead to other, more serious ailments.
Long-term consequences of a vitamin D deficiency include:
- Increased risk of common cancers
- Autoimmune diseases
- Cardiovascular disease
- Lower immune function
- Muscle weakness
- Infectious diseases
If, after reading the above information, you believe you have a deficiency, you’ll want to up your daily amount of vitamin D. However, it’s not as simple as bringing more leafy greens or fruit into your diet. In fact, very few foods have vitamin D in them.
Some foods that include D vitamins include:
- Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines
- Egg yolk
- Cod liver oil
- Fortified milk
- Fortified cereal
Note, however, that fortified milk and cereal have to be eaten in large amounts to make a difference. This means you would have to eat fortified cereal and milk every day to make a difference.
That’s why it’s easier for children and adults to get the vitamin D they need through supplements. When shopping for supplements, make sure you look for D3 (stay away from D2), and keep in mind that vitamin A, K2, and magnesium all help your body absorb and use D3, so taking those along with your vitamin D will ensure that your body uses it.
The recommended daily amount differs, depending on your age. Infants need 400 IU, children and adults need 600 IU, and those who are over 70 need at least 800 IU. If you are having trouble absorbing your supplements, try these strategies:
- Increase your intake
- Rely on more sun exposure
- Take your vitamin D sublingually. That means, rather than swallowing it, you’ll hold it under your tongue.