As the days grow shorter and the sun bows out gracefully to give way to fog, sleet, and endless overcast skies, you may find that more than your mood is affected. A lack of sunshine in the winter robs your body of vitamin D, leaving you feeling glum, irritated, achy, and prone to illness.
There may be a real reason why we seem to be hardwired to seek out sunny beaches and bask in UV rays whenever possible. Synthesized as a result of sun exposure, vitamin D helps the body regulate calcium and phosphorus, gives the immune system a boost, regulates blood sugar levels, staves off numerous illnesses, and fights depression.
The specific benefits of Vitamin D are still being studied at length, as it seems to play so many positive roles in the body. A study published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry in 2009 found that out of 3000 men aged between 40 and 79, those with higher vitamin D levels scored higher on memory and information processing tests. Another study carried out by the Cancer Treatment Centers of America found that adequate levels of vitamin D can reduce the risk of developing cancer.
It really doesn’t take that much sunlight to get an adequate dose of Vitamin D, with experts recommending that two 15 minutes of sunlight per week in a sun-drenched climate can do the trick. This is easier said than done for those who don’t live in the tropics, however. If you lack winter sun you can seek it abroad with flights to Fuerteventura, Honolulu, Crete, and other exotic holiday destinations. In the meantime, you can also supplement with 1000 IU of vitamin D per day if you are at risk of vitamin D deficiency due to a lack of sunshine.
There are two main types of vitamin D. Vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol is made in the body as a response to sun exposure, while vitamin D2 or ergocalciferol is a synthetically added to supplements. Most experts agree that D3 is the more effective form of the vitamin, as it stays in the system for longer periods of time.
Although most of our vitamin D needs can be met through sun exposure, there are a few foods which also offer this important nutrient. Eggs, oily fish such as salmon or sardines, and fortified breakfast cereals can all get your closer to your recommended daily allowance.
The range of symptoms caused by vitamin D deficiency can range from mild to severe. Rickets is a painful childhood bone disease caused by this deficiency, leading to soft, bendable leg bones and a soft skull. Rickets is only one of the visible effects of a vitamin D deficiency, however. Because vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus more efficiently, in its absence it’s possible to develop tooth decay, gum disease, bone pains, general fatigue and weakness, and Osteomalacia.
A lack of winter sun can lead you to become more prone to infections, while children deficient in vitamin D may find that their development is delayed. The best way to avoid these painful symptoms and boost your mood is to spend time in the sunlight whenever possible, to help reap the health benefits of this important vitamin.