You can get vitamin D from being in the sun, so you should focus more on that during the winter.
Sometimes it’s the little things in life that garner the most joy. Today, that “little thing” is the weather forecast, which calls for sunny skies and temperature highs for the better part of the next 10 days — and it’s about time! I have missed you, sun, ‘my sunshine, my only sunshine.’ While a cup of hot chocolate and a bowl of soup might sound appetizing on a frigid winter day, too many cold, dark months make my thoughts turn to spring. Yes, winter has taken its toll. One of winter’s most devilish deeds keeps us cooped up indoors for months on end, separating us from the sun. In fact, this lack of sun exposure is largely to blame for why more than half of the U.S. population today has a depletion of vitamin D.
Vitamin D is an often-misunderstood vitamin — even categorizing it as a vitamin instead of a hormone is up for debate. We know that ultraviolet sunrays cause compounds in the skin to convert to vitamin D and the signs of vitamin D deficiency include brittle bones, osteoporosis and rickets. Recently, vitamin D has shown to have new roles in helping with cardiovascular, neuromuscular and immune health. Vitamin D inadequacy is associated with autoimmune conditions, diabetes, infection, depression and even dementia. Suffice to say, vitamin D is important for your overall health and wellbeing — and the past several months of cold weather has impeded our processing of this vital nutrient.
But the good news is that with warmer weather on the horizon, it’ll be easier to spend some time basking in the sun. While time of day and skin color are factors to consider when determining how much sun exposure is sufficient, on average, 10 to 15 minutes of direct sunlight per day should ensure adequate vitamin D production. As always, if you anticipate being out in the sun for any extended period of time, apply sunscreen to avoid the harmful effects of excessive UV light exposure.
If you can’t get enough sunlight or you are worried about exposing your skin, consider consuming dietary sources of vitamin D. Some foods contain natural sources of vitamin D, like fatty fish, which includes salmon, tuna and mackerel. Or try mushrooms, egg yolks and sunflower seeds. Because so few foods are rich sources, certain foods are vitamin D fortified, such as milk, cereal and orange juice. Vitamin supplements are another option if you’re not getting adequate vitamin D from the sun or your diet.
I am looking forward to these next few days of warmer weather and sunny skies. Hopefully, this is the end of winter — I don’t think I can take one more sip of hot chocolate. Please don’t take my sunshine away.
Mark Gottschlich is a medical student at the Ohio University Heritage College of Medicine. Email Mark if you have general questions about health and wellness at firstname.lastname@example.org; call your physician for personal or illness related concerns.