Getting enough Vitamin D in winter can be challenging. Your body makes Vitamin D when it's exposed to sunlight, hence its nickname the "sunshine vitamin." But during the colder months, you get less sunlight as it becomes darker earlier and you spend more time indoors and covered up. This is particularly true in higher latitude areas and northern regions of the United States.
So, how can you top up your Vitamin D levels without overexposing your skin to the sun? Read on to learn more about this essential vitamin, how to get Vitamin D in winter, and myths about Vitamin D and sunscreen use.
The Importance of the Sunshine Vitamin
Vitamin D helps your body absorb other key nutrients from your diet, such as phosphate and calcium. When you don't get enough Vitamin D, your bones can become weaker and leave you at risk of osteoporosis and fractures. But Vitamin D doesn't just affect your bone health—it keeps you healthy in many other ways. This antioxidant helps lower inflammation, supports a healthy immune system, and contributes to muscle and brain function.
Signs You May Be Deficient in Vitamin D
According to Cleveland Clinic, approximately 35 percent of adults in the US and almost 50 percent of the population worldwide have low Vitamin D levels. So, how can you tell if you're deficient? Vitamin D deficiency in adults can cause muscle cramps or weakness, bone and joint pain, and bone loss. Some people may also experience mood changes, fatigue, or increased illness and infection due to a weakened immune system.
Others may not experience any symptoms at all. Getting a blood test is the only way to know for sure, so talk to your doctor about ordering blood work if you have any concerns.
How to Get Vitamin D in Winter
Having enough Vitamin D is important to your health year-round, but getting enough of the sunshine vitamin during winter months can be tough. Your two best strategies are taking supplements and eating foods high in Vitamin D.
When shopping for Vitamin D supplements, Yale Medicine recommends choosing one that offers the daily recommended allowance for your age. For most healthy adults, that's 600 IU per day. For people over 80, it's about 800 IU. Get a blood test to check your levels before starting supplementation. As with any nutrient, getting too much Vitamin D can be bad for your health.
Prioritize Vitamin D in Your Diet
Another easy way to get Vitamin D is through food. Try including these Vitamin D-rich foods to boost your Vitamin D levels:
- Fatty fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, and swordfish)
- Cod liver oil
- Egg yolks
- Beef liver
- Fortified dairy and nondairy beverages, orange juice, and cereals
Breaking Down the Sunscreen Myth
While you get Vitamin D through your diet, most of your required Vitamin D comes from exposure to ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. When the sun's rays hit your skin, it starts a chain of chemical reactions that eventually produce Vitamin D. Amazing, right?
Does Sunscreen Block Vitamin D?
The relationship between UVB rays and Vitamin D production has contributed to the widespread myth that you need to choose between protecting your skin and getting enough Vitamin D.
Fortunately, the most up-to-date research shows it's not that black and white. In fact, The Skin Cancer Foundation explains that no clinical studies have found a link between everyday sunscreen use and Vitamin D insufficiency symptoms. In contrast, it asserts that people who use sunscreen daily can maintain healthy Vitamin D levels and protect their skin health.
What's the Best Time to Get Vitamin D from the Sun in Winter?
Noon is the best time to get Vitamin D from the sun in winter with minimal risk of concerns like melanoma. How much exposure you need depends on a few factors, including your age, your skin pigmentation, and where you live. For example, one study showed that people living in Valencia, Spain, had only 10 percent of their bodies exposed to sunlight during the winter compared to closer to 25 percent in the spring or summer. Due to this difference in sun exposure, they'd have to get roughly two hours of sun exposure at noon in the winter versus only eight to 10 minutes in the other seasons to produce a sufficient amount of Vitamin D.
By ensuring you enjoy time outdoors in winter while wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen like EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46, you can help maintain healthy levels of Vitamin D without putting your skin at risk.
Staying Healthy during the Winter Months
Now you know that getting enough Vitamin D is essential to supporting your health, especially in the winter when your exposure to natural sunlight decreases. But that doesn't mean you should sacrifice your skin. Start each day by applying sunscreen to all areas of exposed skin and enjoy a daily walk alongside a healthy, balanced diet. Because when it comes to your health, you shouldn't have to choose.