Vitamin D Drought
This time of year, when the sun is a scarce memory- except ironically, on Groundhog's day when we actually want it to be cloudy so that we can see Spring in our not too distant future- we often start to feel slightly more lethargic. Our feet drag a bit more while walking (that may be a result of those clunky Uggs) and the couch irresistibly beckons us to snuggle under a blanket with a book. Call it laziness or the winter blues if you want, but there is actually a scientific reason the lethargy!
You are likely experiencing a dip, or even deficiency, in Vitamin D, otherwise known as the sunshine vitamin.
Most people know that Vitamin D allows the body to use calcium for maintaining strong bones, but it is so much more than that. Vitamin D is actually necessary for proper muscle, nerve and immune function- and inadequate levels have been linked to osteoporosis, heart disease, hypertension, as well as multiple cancers.
Vitamin D is obtainable through diet and direct exposure to sunlight, but there are inherent difficulties with this both in summer- we are all slathered with sunscreen, which is a great thing mind you- or winter when we see less of the sun. The short list of foods that are good sources of Vitamin D includes eggs, fatty fish, shrimp, cod liver oil, and fortified milks (including almond or coconut), juices and cereals. Unfortunately, there are hardly any practical plant-based sources of enough Vitamin D other than shiitake mushrooms, so if you are vegan finding a supplement is important.
Other issues resulting in deficiency include that the amount of vitamin D obtained from sunlight may be reduced by age and the accumulation of toxins in the liver and kidneys (where vitamin D is activated). Additionally, those with dark skin and some ethnic backgrounds are more susceptible to deficiencies.
Sun exposure of the face, hands and arms for just 5 to 15 minutes several times a week is usually enough to meet our Vitamin D needs, however during the winter months, we may not be exposed to enough sun (or there is too much smog...) in order for our skin to synthesize the vitamin. In these cases, supplements might be a good idea.
Something to note when comparing and selecting supplements is that Vitamin D and Vitamin K work together when it comes to calcium metabolism, and therefore you should ensure that you get enough of both. Vitamin K, which is found in abundance in brightly colored fruits and leafy green vegetables, is best metabolized in your body from plant based sources- which is important to note when selecting your supplements.
Benefits of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is not only just good for your bones, it is also a natural radiation blocker, an immune system booster, an inflammation reducer, and a source of energy and mood enhancement. It might even improve acne and reduce your risk for diabetes.
It is to your benefit that you ensure that you are getting the right amount of Vitamin D in your diet. The newly updated recommended dietary allowance of Vitamin D, according to the National Institutes of Health, for males and females from ages 4-70 is 600 IU/day and for ages 70+ is 800 IU/day. Many supplements on the market are of much higher dosages- I have even seen some at 2500 IU- ask you physician before taking any supplements with more than 500-1000 IU/day.
So next time you get tired or your mood slumps, think about boosting it with a shot of sunshine or a least a sunshine supplement!