Our bodies produce vitamin D by absorbing sunlight through our skin. If you live someplace like New England, that might be more of an issue in winter than in summer. As technology advances, we spend more and more time indoors and our sun exposure decreases. This, among other factors, contributes to vitamin D deficiency and increasing rates of depression.
We grow food in ways that can deprive us of vitamins, as well as other key nutrients. For example, mushrooms are usually a source of vitamin D. But, when they are mass produced and grown in the dark, they usually lack the vitamin.
Vitamin D deficiency has been blamed for unexplained sadness/Depression, weak/painful bones, bone loss, allergies, weight gain and pre-diabetic status. People living in the Northern Hemisphere have a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency. Other risk factors include those who work nights, live at high altitudes, are dark-skinned or spend most of their time indoors.
A study in the Journal of Neurology found that vitamin D deficiency in older adults may double the risk of some types of dementia. And, older adults may have trouble absorbing vitamin D or converting sunlight to vitamin D. Your doctor can check your vitamin D level by doing a blood test. If you suspect that you suffer from low D, there are some easy things you can do.
For starters, get some sunlight! But, how much is enough and will still keep us safe for skin cancer danger? It’s recommended that we get about 30 minutes, twice a week. You don’t need to sunbathe in a bikini, either: Nor does it need to be a hot, summer sun.
Foods rich in vitamin D are easy to add to our diet. Many foods are fortified with vitamin D and widely available, including cereals, milk and juice. Other sources are Fatty fish (herring, mackerel, sardines), canned tuna, mushrooms grown in sunlight, beef liver, cod liver oil, and eggs(yolks).
Vitamin D supplements are sold over-the-counter at drug stores and supermarkets. Studies have shown that drops are more effective than tablets and capsules. Recommended doses vary, depending on your age and location. But even infants are safe taking up to 400IU/day.
A serious deficiency in vitamin D causes a disease called Rickets. It can also contribute to osteoporosis. Overdosing on D is rare and not caused by overexposure to the sun (that presents other risks!) or over indulging in vitamin rich foods. But toxicity can result from taking supplements in doses that are too high. Be sure to consult a doctor before you add supplements to your diet. The most beneficial method to take in any nutrient is by eating a healthy variety of foods. In this case, a safe amount of exposure to the sun is also recommended.
So, if you suspect that you’ve got a case of the winter blues – You could be right! Get outdoors and soak up a little sunshine! You’re bound to feel better.