Micro-habits to help you dodge a Vitamin D deficiency this winter
You’ve probably been told by your doctor to take extra care of your vitamin D intake from autumn to winter before, but have you ever wondered why that matters?
It may surprise you to learn that the main source of this vital vitamin is from the sun. And as our weather transitions from warm to close to freezing, it’s important to remember to also adjust your primary source of vitamin D.
How does sunshine produce Vitamin D?
Sunlight doesn't actually “provide” you with vitamin D. Rather, when your skin is exposed to sunlight, it makes vitamin D from cholesterol. The sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays hit cholesterol in the skin cells, providing the energy for vitamin D to be created.
In the summer, vitamin D production can be high because UV light levels are high. In fact, we only need around a recommended daily 15-20 minutes out in the sun to make a sufficient amount of vitamin D!
However, during winter, it’s much harder to get enough UVB to make vitamin D. This is because the sunlight is lower in the sky and doesn't contain enough UVB radiation for your skin to be able to produce enough vitamin D.
Did you know that people living in areas farther away from the equator make less vitamin D in their skin for up to six months a year during the winter months? The further away from the equator you get, the less UVB light reaches the earth's surface.
Why does Vitamin D matter?
You need sufficient levels of Vitamin D to absorb calcium, which helps to build and maintain your bones. Vitamin D also fights inflammation, maintains joint and muscle strength, and may even help regulate mood, decreasing the risk of depression.
Vitamin D also plays a key role in regulating your immune system, helping it function optimally. This is especially important during colder months, when there are more colds and bugs going around. Worldwide, it is estimated that 1 billion people have inadequate levels of vitamin D in their blood, and deficiencies can be found in all ethnicities and age groups.
As vitamin D is an essential nutrient that helps regulate key activities in your body, it’s essential to make sure you’re getting enough all year round!
To help you stay on top of your vitamin D intake across the colder months, why not introduce these simple micro-habits to your daily routine…
Take a Vitamin D supplement (at least 25 micrograms or 1000IU per day)
A solid starting point is to take a daily vitamin D supplement. This micro-habit only takes seconds out of your day, and provides countless health benefits!
Unless you’ve been recommended otherwise, aim for a 1000IU vitamin D supplement, as this is sufficient enough to help regulate vitamin D levels in your body. You may even want to pair your vitamin D supplement with magnesium rich foods, such as a banana. This is because magnesium plays an important role in assisting in the activation of vitamin D in the body.
Supercharge with Mushrooms!
Sunshine isn’t the only source of vitamin D! It’s also found in fatty fish, eggs, sheep’s wool, fortified foods and drinks, and – to the relief of plant-based eaters everywhere – mushrooms. In fact, mushrooms are one of the only non-animal sources of Vitamin D around.
Similar to when humans are exposed to sunlight, mushrooms convert a precursor to vitamin D, named ergosterol, into vitamin D when exposed to UV light.
You can even boost the amount of natural vitamin D in your mushrooms by simply leaving them out on your windowsill to soak up some sunshine before you eat them. It’s best to leave them out when the sun is at its strongest between 11am and 3pm for up to an hour.
Expose yourself to as much sunlight as possible (across the year)
The best way to get vitamin D is from the sun. And yes, there’s less of it during the winter months, but every little bit does help. Also, if you get moderate exposure to the sun between May and October, the excess Vitamin D is stored in the body's fat, which can be released during the winter.
Signs and symptoms of a Vitamin D deficiency
Symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency can vary from person to person, and often cause no symptoms at all – at first. The signs are usually subtle, but here are some to look out for…
You may begin to experience bone aches
Vitamin D helps regulate calcium and phosphate levels in the body, two essential minerals for maintaining strong and healthy bones. If you’re deficient in vitamin D, it can have a direct impact on your bone health, and you may go on to experience bone or joint pain. Aches and stiffness, especially first thing in the morning, is definitely a sign to look out for.
You’re losing your hair
When there isn’t enough vitamin D in your system, new hair growth can be stunted. While there are more common causes of hair loss, such as genetics, hormones and major lifestyle changes, research shows that low vitamin D levels can also be associated with hair loss, specifically, alopecia.
You may be feeling more tired
Low levels of vitamin D can zap your energy levels, leaving you feeling rather sluggish. Common symptoms of a deficiency include fatigue and feeling excessively tired throughout the day, even if you get plenty of sleep.
Your scalp is sweatier than usual
You normally sweat when your core body temperature rises, and most of the time this isn’t a problem. But excessive head sweating, especially on your scalp, can be an early sign of a vitamin D deficiency.
You’re frequently catching colds
Vitamin D is an important part of the immune system, and getting enough vitamin D is essential for a strong and healthy immune system. If you find yourself getting ill or catching infections more often, it may be down to low levels of vitamin D.
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Riya Lakhani ANutr is a registered nutritionist and health writer with a special interest in plant-based nutrition. She has completed a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Human Nutrition, and has developed a passion for writing about all things plant-based.