Avoiding a Vitamin D Deficiency This Winter

Drink your milk! It’s an order most of us heard growing up. And for good reason. Milk contains calcium and vitamin D, which are linked to better bone health and stronger teeth. What many people are unaware of is that vitamin D doesn’t occur naturally in many foods.

One way many of us get vitamin D is through exposure to sunlight. When your skin is exposed to the sun’s rays, it synthesizes vitamin D from cholesterol. That’s why people who live in northern climates might be at risk for a vitamin D deficiency during the colder months of the year. When the temperature drops, people are more likely to spend the bulk of their time indoors. The result can be a serious vitamin D deficiency.

What Happens When You are Deficient in Vitamin D?

Experts rank vitamin D deficiency in two categories. Initially, it causes vague symptoms that can easily be attributed to a busy lifestyle. As it advances, however, it can cause significant problems. Here’s what to know about each stage of a vitamin D deficiency:

  • Early-stage: The first signs of vitamin D deficiency may be overlooked or misdiagnosed. The most common symptoms include fatigue that doesn’t improve with rest, muscle and joint pain, mood swings, and general weakness.
  • Advanced: When a vitamin D deficiency goes untreated, it can cause more dramatic bone pain and possibly even bone fractures. It’s also linked to higher risk of heart and vascular disease, as well as greater incidences of prostate, breast, and colon cancer.

Preventing a Vitamin D Deficiency This Winter

As we head into the heart of winter, there are steps you can take to avoid developing a vitamin D deficiency, which include:

  • Plan menus carefully: Winter weather makes many of us turn to comfort foods when we are hungry. Sugary treats can be especially enticing. While they might make you feel better in the short run, most are lacking in vitamin D and calcium. When you plan your menus for the week, make a point of including foods that are naturally high in vitamin D or enriched with it. Canned salmon, milk, tuna, and mushrooms are good options. So are yogurt, cereal, orange juice, and eggs that are enriched with vitamin D.
  • Spend time outdoors: The common recommendation to help build vitamin D is to get 20 minutes of sun several times a week. If winter temps are too low to stay outdoors that long, break it up over a few days. If you have any questions about spending time outside during the winter, talk with your primary care physician since they know your medical history best.
  • Discuss supplements with your doctor: While the experts generally agree that it’s best to get essential vitamins and nutrients through your diet, that’s not always possible when it comes to vitamin D. If you are concerned you don’t get enough vitamin D naturally, see your physician. They can order a simple blood test to check your levels. If you are deficient, the doctor will decide if you need a prescription dose of vitamin D for a month or six weeks or if an over-the-counter supplement will suffice.

If you are looking for more information on successful aging, How Lifestyle Impacts Healthy Aging is a good article to review. It covers topics ranging from stress management to the dangers of sitting too much.