Knowing how to get vitamin D in winter can be a challenge, and the truth is that some people might not be getting enough. Your body produces a share of the vitamin D it needs after exposure to natural sunlight—hence its nickname the "sunshine vitamin." But naturally, during the colder months, you get far less natural sunlight as it becomes darker much earlier in the day, and you spend more time indoors and covered up from the cold. This is particularly true in parts of the world with higher latitudes and northern regions of the United States.
So, why is getting vitamin D in winter so important for your health, and how can you top up your levels without overexposing your skin to the more dangerous elements of the sun? Let's take a look at the key facts to know, including the vitamin D deficiency symptoms to note and the myths that surround this issue.
The Importance of the Sunshine Vitamin
Vitamin D is important as it helps the body to 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 even leave you at risk of bone deformities. It can also weaken the immune system, leaving you more at risk of infection and viruses. This is why it's even more important you know how to get vitamin D in winter when you're more exposed to viruses, such as the common cold and flu.
Signs That You May Be Deficient in Vitamin D
Vitamin D insufficiency affects almost 50 percent of the population worldwide, according to the NCBI, and an estimated 1 billion people worldwide, across all ethnicities and age groups, have a vitamin D deficiency. So, how can you tell if you're deficient? If your immune system seems very weak, and a month doesn't seem to go by without you catching a cold, chances are your body could benefit from a top-up.
Additionally, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation, those deficient in vitamin D may suffer from a range of other problems, such as muscle aches, muscle weakness, and bone pain. In more serious cases, bones can become soft and weak. Thisccan put the body at greater risk of skeletal deformities, osteoporosis, and fractures. If you're concerned about your symptoms, ask a doctor to take a blood test to monitor your levels. The Skin Cancer Foundation advises that anything below a score of 30 is considered to be deficient, while anything over 50 is deemed adequate for the body's needs.
Breaking Down the Sunscreen Myth
About 80 percent of your required vitamin D levels come from exposure to UVB rays—yes, the same rays that are responsible for burning, damaging, and reddening the skin. Yale Medicine explains that when radiation from the sun hits your skin, cholesterol present in the skin cells starts a chain of chemical reactions. This, in turn, releases vitamin D into the body.
This has understandably led to a lot of confusion, as when the skin is left unprotected from UVB, the skin's cellular DNA is damaged and your risk of premature skin aging and skin cancer increases. This confusion has also led to the common myth that you need to choose between protecting your skin and getting your necessary vitamin D. Thankfully, the most up-to-date research shows that it doesn't need to be that black and white.
In fact, The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that clinical studies have never found that everyday sunscreen use leads to vitamin D insufficiency symptoms. Its prevailing studies show that people who use sunscreen daily can actually maintain their vitamin D levels. So, by ensuring you enjoy time outdoors each day in winter while protecting your skin from UV damage, you can help to top up your natural levels of vitamin D while ensuring your skin isn't being put at risk.
EltaMD has a range of high-quality broad-spectrum sunscreens that will keep your skin healthy while allowing it to reap the benefits of the winter sunshine. Don't forget to protect more delicate areas such as the lips with a broad-spectrum lip balm, especially if you enjoy time spent on the slopes or ice rink.
Adding Vitamin D to Your Diet
Though the majority of vitamin D is absorbed through sunlight, the remaining 20 percent of your required vitamin D levels comes from your diet, so it's important to know which foods to eat. Red meat, eggs, mushrooms, and oily fish such as salmon and mackerel are all good natural sources of vitamin D, whereas staples like cereals, milk, and juices are often fortified with vitamin D. You can also take vitamin D supplements, such as cod liver oil, if some of the foods mentioned aren't part of your usual diet, or you live in a part of the world with low levels of sunlight.
So, you now know that getting enough vitamin D is essential to supporting your health, especially in winter when your exposure to natural sunlight decreases. But that definitely doesn't mean you should expose your unprotected skin to potential sun damage: a daily walk outside while wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen will suffice, alongside a healthy balanced diet.