As we approach the winter months, we can start to feel a bit gloomy. Without much light to give us a glow many of us begin to lose our Vitamin D and our sunny disposition. Here are some tips to ensure you survive the winter with a beaming smile and high levels of Vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiency is incredibly common. The most common signs of deficiency are aching bones, infections, headaches, migraines, forgetfulness, fatigue and head sweats. A simple blood test by your GP can assess your levels. Vitamin D deficiency is three times more prevalent in those that are overweight or obese. If you have any gastrointestinal issues such as Crohn’s, coeliac or inflammatory bowel disease you’re also likely to have lower levels.
Vitamin D is the only vitamin which is a hormone. This means our body is able to make it when we’re exposed to sunlight. How much our body makes is dependent on our skin type and where we live. If you have fair to olive skin and live in the southern part of Australia, then two to three hours of midday sun exposure across the week should top you up.
Sunbaking isn’t required to make Vitamin D. You should also wear sunscreen and remember that your face, arms and hands only need the sunshine. Solariums shouldn’t ever be used to elevate your Vitamin D as they use dangerous levels of ultraviolet radiation. If you work outside or run to the gym during the day then you should be getting all the sun you need.
Food can provide the extra boost of Vitamin D you require in winter. Foods that are naturally high in Vitamin D include fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines and trout. Meat, cheese, egg yolk, offal, milk and mushrooms grown under lights are also good sources. Breakfast cereals, yoghurt and margarine are often fortified with Vitamin D so check your labels to see if you’re getting any extra from these.
Men and women aged between 19-50 years need 600 international units (IU) of Vitamin D per day. One cup of milk would contain around 100IU and two cooked eggs 70IU. Salmon on the other hand would give you around 400IU. As the body gets less sun at this time of year it relies on our storage of Vitamin D and food sources, so eat smart. Research also shows that required Vitamin D levels vary dramatically on a person by person basis.
An emerging problem for Vitamin D deficiency is the avoidance of sun for cosmetic and skin cancer reasons. In addition to this those that have dark skin and those that are office or night shift workers have increased risk. Older Australians and people with medical conditions are also more vulnerable as they have limited time in the sun.
Vitamin D is important if you’re training as it strengthens bones and muscles. It’s also essential for your immune system. Low levels have been associated with heart disease, diabetes, autism, cancer, multiple sclerosis and mental health conditions such as depression and schizophrenia. Vitamin D also assists our memory and cognitive functioning.
Supplements may be taken if your Vitamin D is low. Don’t just start popping Vitamin D supplements if you feel you’re not getting enough rays though. Vitamin D can be toxic and cause abnormally high calcium levels resulting in nausea, constipation, abnormal heart rhythms or kidney failure. A recent study also showed that excess Vitamin D may slow reaction times in older people.
Recent research has shown that exercise also boosts your Vitamin D levels. My advice is to grab a table outdoors after your ZAP session and enjoy a brunch of eggs and salmon. You’ll be walking on sunshine in no time.