Vitamin D and the Return of Spring
Like many of us, the winter gets me down, man.
Be it the cold weather or lack of sunshine, whether you call it Seasonal Affective Disorder or just the winter blues, sunshine cheers us up. But it’s more than just the thought of beach vacations and summer cookouts that perks up our mood, there’s science behind our sun worship. Cloudy days and longer nights limit the amount of time we spend in the sun. With so many of us working desk jobs, we can go all week without catching any rays. With an early morning commute and busy evening, it’s dark when we arrive at work and dark when we leave.
Why do we need the sun?
Time in the sun is more than just pleasure, it’s good health! Our bodies naturally synthesize vitamin D from sunlight. Vitamin D is responsible for a great many of the markers of good health: strong bones and connective tissue, good immune system function, fat synthesis and even delayed mortality. It’s easy to see how many of us could be vitamin D deficient and write it off — aches and pains, lethargy, mild depression — we find it easy to brush these things off as the result of a sedentary lifestyle. It’s not wrong — in addition to Vitamin D deficiency, lack of exercise contributes to Seasonal Affective Disorder — but we’re not at its mercy.
In addition to affecting our moods, aches and pains, vitamin D is necessary for women who suffer from calcium deficiencies. Vitamin D3 enables calcium absorption in the intestine and is a limiting factor in the calcium absorption reaction. In lay terms: you can eat all the calcium you want, but without D3 to absorb it, it goes nowhere. Luckily, many calcium supplements now contain D3 to assist in absorption.
My own experience with vitamin D3 made me a believer. Last winter I went to a doctor for my annual physical and found I was severely vitamin D deficient. I’d been trying to stick to a workout plan, but could barely find it in me to do my laundry. After a battery of basic blood tests, I was healthy, save for my vitamin D levels. Healthy vitamin D levels for a woman my age are in the 30-40 range. Mine were 11. Yeesh! The doctor prescribed a supplement for me and like magic, the horrible fog lifted. I was able to work out, plan meals, smile and do my laundry. The daily fog that accompanied my waking ritual faded. Luckily, we don’t all need a prescription.
How to raise vitamin D levels?
Foods: Some foods are naturally rich in vitamin D, while others are fortified. Fish, mushrooms and eggs contain small amounts of vitamin D2 and D3, however some foods (such as whole milk) are fortified and remain a good source.
Supplements: Many calcium supplements now contain vitamin D or D3, in addition to supplements now being available in multivitamin, geltab and sublingual melt-tab form.
Sunshine: The best and most efficient way to boost levels of vitamin D is sun exposure. Doctors recommend 10-30 minutes of unprotected sun exposure a day to keep levels up. Luckily, for those worried about burning, 10 minutes is for the fair-skinned crowd. The swarthier among us need more time in the sun to receive the same benefit.
For those worried about the risks of sun exposure, doctors assure that 10-30 minutes will do far more good than harm! Low vitamin D levels are associated with heart disease, cancer and multiple sclerosis. Enjoy a short walk in a tanktop and shorts and save the sunscreen for afterward.
With Spring finally arriving in D.C., there’s never been a better time to take ten minutes in the sun to do something great for your health!
Article by: Tini Howard, Health Editor
Health editor, Tini Howard is a writer, aerialist and foodie from the East Coast.