As you bundle up on your way out the door during these final months of winter, you may or may not be aware of the beneficial “sunshine vitamin,” also known as vitamin D, that you are getting less of due to spending more time indoors to escape the cold. Technically a hormone, vitamin D promotes the absorption of key nutrients— calcium, magnesium, phosphate, and zinc—which keep bones strong and are likely also beneficial for other body parts and for fighting off disease.
It’s difficult to get enough vitamin D solely from food, but when coupled with sunlight, most people make sufficient amounts. However, it can be difficult to get all of the sunlight you need during the colder months. And if you have a darker skin tone, or live in an area with high pollution or many overcast days, it can become even more challenging.
Without enough vitamin D, bones are predisposed to breaking more easily, particularly in the legs, pelvis and hips. People may also suffer from bone or muscle pain or weakness, lethargy, and a general sense of malaise. So, it’s critical to obtain some vitamin D from sources other than sunlight.
Like many things in life though, there’s always the chance of too much of a good thing. Vitamin D is no exception. Although toxicity is rare, if it does occur, it can lead to serious problems, such as kidney stones, heart arrhythmias, or calcification of blood vessels and organs. For this reason, megadoses are not recommended until further research establishes a clear benefit.
Health Practitioners can check for a vitamin D deficiency by way of a simple blood test. If a deficiency is detected, the doctor would most likely suggest taking a daily supplement—or high-dose vitamin D tablets or liquids, if the diagnosis is severe deficiency.
So, while you’re waiting for your next checkup, be sure to spend time outdoors in the sun when the weather cooperates, and pack your grocery cart with foods rich in vitamin D, like fatty fish, cheese, egg yolks, fortified cereals and dairy products.