Please Don’t Take My Sunshine Away

It’s winter, which means that most days we can count on cold temperatures and little to no sunlight. There are of course exceptions to this, but they are not the norm and only succeed in spoiling us and making us upset when the weather inevitably goes back to how it should be for this time of year.

February, although it is the shortest month of the year, can often times feel like the longest month. By this point we’re over sunshinewinter, but still have at least a month and a half to go. We miss the sun and the warmth it brings, but did you know its absence could be affecting more than just our mood?

Vitamin D is unique in the fact that it is a vitamin but it is also something our body can make with the help of sunlight. So if we’re not getting it from our food, which can be tough, and we’re stuck in a season where sunshine isn’t prevalent, or it’s too cold for us to be out in it – there’s a good chance we could be Vitamin D deficient. In fact, 40-75% of people suffer from a Vitamin D deficiency.

To figure out exactly what having a Vitamin D deficiency means and how it can be remedied, we talked to McFarland Clinic Adult Medicine provider, Dr. Brenda Burrough.

“Vitamin D is important for bone health, preventing rickets, fractures and osteoporosis,” Burrough says. “It is also thought to play a role in cardiovascular and immune system functioning and is typically added to foods with calcium as it aids in calcium absorption.”

Dr. Burrough went on to mention that part of the issue with diagnosing a Vitamin D deficiency is that a mild or moderate deficiency can be silent for years until the long term effects on bones becomes evident via fractures or diminished bone density.

The recommended dietary allowance of Vitamin D is 600 IU per day for people up to age 70 and 800 IU for those 70 and older. So, how do we get that? Especially if during this time of year we can’t count on the sun?

“The best sources of Vitamin D in food come from fatty fish such as salmon and fortified dairy products like milk. Cereal can also be fortified with Vitamin D and eggs have a small amount,” states Burrough. “Many people choose to supplement with over the counter products like Vitamin D3. This is suitable for otherwise healthy individuals, but those with other medical conditions need to discuss supplementing with their primary care physician as those conditions can often require higher doses and further evaluation. The American Heart Association actually recommends not exceeding 3,000 IUs a day unless under direct physician supervision as it can increase the risk of atherosclerosis (the build up of fatty material in and on the artery walls).”

The sun and its warmth will be back soon. In the meantime, visit our Health Library to learn more about Vitamin D and how it works together with calcium to keep your bones strong and healthy.