How to Get Your Sunshine Vitamin in Winter
Getting enough vitamin D, especially in the winter, can become a challenge. Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is unique because it can be made by your body a result of direct sunlight exposure. However, with less sunlight in winter, especially in northern climates, it becomes essential to understand alternative ways to ensure you’re getting enough. More than 20% of people in the US are vitamin D deficient, which can lead to physical and mental health issues.
Why Vitamin D is Vital
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in maintaining health. It helps the body absorb calcium, which is one of the building blocks of bone. A deficiency can lead to bone diseases such as osteomalacia or osteoporosis in adults. Research suggests that vitamin D plays a role in immune function and reducing inflammation. Moreover, Vitamin D deficiency is linked to depression, cognitive decline and seasonal affective disorder.
Get Vitamin D from the Sun
The amount of vitamin D you can get from sun exposure depends on several factors, including:
– The time of day: Your skin produces more vitamin D if you’re exposed to the sun when it’s higher in the sky, typically between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
– Where you live: The closer you are to the equator, the easier it is for you to produce vitamin D from sunlight year-round. People who live farther from the equator may not get enough UVB energy to make vitamin D during the winter months.
– Skin color: Melanin is the pigment that gives skin its color. The more melanin you have, the darker your skin, and the more it protects against UV radiation. As a result, if you have darker skin, you’ll need more sun exposure to make vitamin D compared to someone with lighter skin.
– The amount of skin exposed: The more skin you expose, the more vitamin D your body will produce.
– The use of sunscreen: Sunscreen blocks UVB light – the type of light that’s needed for your body to produce vitamin D.
On average, exposing your arms and legs for 10 to 30 minutes several times a week may be sufficient for adequate vitamin D synthesis. However, this varies widely, and you should always balance the need for sun exposure with the risk of skin damage and skin cancer.
Get Vitamin D from Your Diet
When sunlight exposure is limited, your diet becomes an important source of vitamin D. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna are among the best natural sources. Beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks provide smaller amounts. In many countries, milk and other dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals are fortified with vitamin D.
Supplements Can Help
For many people, taking a vitamin D supplement may be the most reliable method to ensure adequate intake. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adults is 600-800 IU (15-20 micrograms) per day, but some individuals may require more, especially if they have limited sun exposure or if their absorption is compromised. Always talk to your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.
Consider UV Lamps and Bulbs
Specific types of ultraviolet lamps and bulbs are designed to produce UV-B radiation, which can promote vitamin D synthesis in the skin. These can be a good option for those living in northern latitudes. However, it’s important to use them under medical guidance, as overexposure to UV-B radiation can cause skin damage or increase the risk of skin cancer.
Stay Active Outdoors
Even during winter, natural sunlight exposure is possible. Try to make the most of sunny days by going for a walk or engaging in outdoor activities. The fresh air will benefit your overall well-being, too.
Vitamin D is a vital nutrient that doesn’t have to disappear with the sunshine. By incorporating vitamin-D-rich foods into your diet, considering supplements, and getting outside whenever possible, you can maintain your levels throughout the winter. As always, consult with your healthcare provider for personalized advice, especially when it comes to supplementation and UV exposure.
– National Institutes of Health – Office of Dietary Supplements: [Vitamin D Fact Sheet for Health Professionals](https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/)
– World Health Organization: [UV Radiation and Health](https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/radiation-ultraviolet-(uv))
– Skin Cancer Foundation – Vitamin D [Skin Cancer Foundation](https://www.skincancer.org/healthy-lifestyle/vitamin-d/)