Fall has definitely hit here in the Pacific Northwest and with the cold has come a time of decreased opportunity for sun exposure. While many of us love this time of snuggling in front of a fire, it can wreak havoc on our Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is often called the “sunshine vitamin” because our body needs exposure to sunlight for its production. Between the change of seasons and the pandemic, people are spending more time inside and even when they do go outside, are slathering themselves with sunscreen. Dark skinned people have less ability to convert sunshine to Vitamin D then light skinned people and the sunshine for people living in the northern climates (above Los Angeles) is often not strong enough to stimulate production, particularly in the winter. These factors contribute to what many are calling a Vitamin D deficiency epidemic.
Over the years, research has linked Vitamin D deficiency to Seasonal Affective Disorder, breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, depression, weight gain, decreased immunity and other illnesses. Your body needs Vitamin D to aid calcium absorption to prevent bone difficulties and Vitamin D seems to be important for activating the t-cells of the immune system. Now more than ever, Vitamin D’s impact on the immune system is particularly important. Preliminary research suggests Vitamin D may help protect against Corona virus and if you do become infected, it may help decrease the severity of the infection.
To ensure you are getting enough Vitamin D, 30 minutes, two times a week of summer sun exposure to your back, legs or face without sunscreen will usually produce adequate levels of Vitamin D. (There is some concern about the risk of sun exposure without protection. Talk to your doctor about these risks.) In the winter or northern climates, this may be difficult to achieve. Supplementation may be necessary.
See your doctor to obtain a simple blood test to determine your Vitamin D level. If your blood level is less than 50 ng/ml, consider talking to your doctor about Vitamin D supplementation. It is difficult to reach adequate levels of Vitamin D with food alone and supplementing with Vitamin D can take months to reach normal levels. Good food sources of Vitamin D include cod liver oil, fortified cereals, salmon, milk, tuna, beef or calf liver, mackerel, eggs yolks and mushrooms grown in UV light. Vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol is the most bioavailable form of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin so dietary fat intakes must be sufficient to aid absorption.
Photo from flickr.