It’s winter. It’s dreary, it’s cold, and ... well, it’s winter.
Since most of us huddle up indoors during the freezing temps, we’re generally not getting enough vitamin D, otherwise known as the sunshine vitamin.
An essential nutrient, vitamin D is the building block for strong, healthy bones and teeth. The vitamin is needed for the growth of cells and tissues as well as proper functioning of the body’s immune system and major organs like the heart and brain.
Rebecca Scritchfield, R.D., principal and owner of Elite Nutrition, recommends chowing down on foods with natural levels of vitamin D, including fish (salmon, tuna and other fatty types), egg yolks and organ meats like liver. If chopped liver doesn’t sound all too appetizing, then go for fortified cereals, milk, yogurt and orange juice.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend that adults from 19 to 70 years of age should consume around 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day. Oftentimes, though, even the sunniest of days and the most balanced of diets aren’t adequate sources; you may have to turn to a higher dosage of the vitamin in supplement form.
Deficiencies of the sunshine vitamin can lead to osteoporosis, a condition that is the cause of weak and sometimes brittle bones that are susceptible to fractures. If vitamin D isn’t present in the body to help regulate calcium absorption, then levels of calcium and phosphate can escape from the bones.
“Low levels of vitamin D in the body may increase the risk of breast, colon and prostate cancers,” said Scritchfield. Studies also suggest that low levels of vitamin D may increase risk of depression, bacterial infections and autoimmune disorders like diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
Think you’ve got nothing to worry about? Surprisingly, even the healthiest athlete and most conscious health nut can have low levels of the vitamin.
As a registered dietitian, Scritchfield must constantly monitor her own vitamin D levels by way of lab tests because past bloodwork results have shown her as being deficient.
“I'm not sure why I am deficient. I eat foods with vitamin D,” she said. “It's most likely that I am genetically inefficient at making vitamin D. Most of my family members are low in vitamin D, too.”
Scritchfield emphasizes the importance of lab work to check vitamin levels before it’s too late.
“You may not know until you've developed a bone problem like osteomalacia, osteoporosis or rickets. That's why you should get the blood test to find out your levels,” she said. “Just like you get a cholesterol test as an indication of your heart health, you should be getting a vitamin D test as an indication of your bone health.”
Want yet another reason to hate winter? Here’s one: the sun’s not strong enough in the D.C. metropolitan area during this season to generate vitamin D. If you can’t migrate to Florida every winter, then remember to get lab tests done at your next check-up and -- don’t mean to be a nag -- but, eat all colors of the rainbow to stay healthy.
“This is America, where we have food and resources at our disposal,” summed up Scritchfield. “There is simply no reason why we should have to walk around with [a] vitamin deficiency.”