Health Tips

Boosting Vitamin D During Dark, Dreary Days of Winter

The cold, gray days of a Cincinnati winter could be depriving you of a healthy daily dose of sunlight and vitamin D. Vitamin D is a nutrient that helps us maintain strong bones. Exposing bare skin to the sun is one of our body’s best ways to make vitamin D.

Unfortunately, sunshine can be scarce during Ohio’s short winter days and cloudy skies. Group Health Endocrinologist Jyothi Joseph-Hayes, MD, advises how to get enough vitamin D through sun and supplements.

“I recommend 20 minutes per day with one bare arm and one bare leg receiving direct sun,” she says.  This can be hard to achieve in Cincinnati, as we’re wearing sunscreen to protect against skin cancer, staying indoors or wearing protective clothing to shelter us from the cold, and getting reduced daylight in the winter.

It’s hard to make up the sunlight deficit with foods alone, Dr. Joseph-Hayes says. “Very few foods naturally have vitamin D. They include fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, beef liver, egg yolks and some wild mushrooms. Many foods are fortified with vitamin D, such as milk, breakfast cereal, orange juice and yogurt.”

She recommends supplements — especially in the winter — to get the full amount of vitamin D your body needs. “Vitamin D3 is the best supplement and comes in tablets and capsules, which you can take at any time of day.”

Why Vitamin D is Important

Getting enough vitamin D in your body keeps your bones healthy and decreases your risk of bone loss and fractures. This is especially true as we age. Vitamin D is also important for muscle strength and function, heart and lung health, brain development, a strong immune system, and possibly warding off cancer.

Children who have a vitamin D deficiency can get rickets, a condition where the bones become soft and start to bend. In adults, this is called osteomalacia and can result in bone pain and muscle weakness.  Osteoporosis also can result from lack of vitamin D.

Groups most likely to experience vitamin D deficiency include:

  • Those with darker skin pigmentation, which converts less vitamin D from sunlight
  • Older people who have thinner skin, which can result in decreased vitamin D synthesis
  • Breastfed infants, since mother’s milk doesn’t contain a lot of vitamin D
  • Pregnant women and obese people whose bodies need more vitamin D than the average person
  • Anyone with limited sun exposure for the reasons described above

If your body has too little vitamin D, you may experience fatigue and aches and pains in muscles and bones. Too much vitamin D from supplements also can cause negative side effects, such as nausea, poor appetite and weakness. Blood calcium levels may rise and cause confusion or cloudy thinking, and possible irregular heart rhythms.

Ask your doctor whether you should have your vitamin D levels checked.

Tags Health Tips , Prevention and Early Detection , Skin Health