As the weather cools, keep your vitamin D levels up
By member Kristen Sherman, Muncie, Ind.
From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised. Psalm 113:3 ESV
Autumn is the time of year when leaves are falling, jackets come out and we store away our t-shirts, shorts, swimsuits and sunscreen for next year.
However, we don’t often consider how our vitamin D levels can be affected by the change in season and wardrobe or how we may need to change habits to get what our bodies need. Moderate time spent in the sun in summer attire is one way to get vitamin D that we can easily take for granted. The other way is to ingest vitamin D through food.
During the sunny summer months we can get vitamin D without much effort. In contrast, when days grow shorter and more of our skin is covered, we run the risk of vitamin D deficiency. Health experts have said that as much as 50 percent of the world’s population has insufficient amounts of this vitamin.
Low levels of vitamin D affect people in ways that often go undiagnosed. It can cause bone and muscle pain as well as confusion in older adults. In young children, low levels can cause rickets and contribute to severe asthma.
Ongoing research is being conducted to research a connection between desired vitamin D levels and disease reduction in the following areas:
- Cancer: helps suppress risk, especially for breast, prostate, and colon cancer
- Diabetes: participates in the activation and release of insulin
- Cardiovascular disease: helps decrease blood pressure
- Muscular function: helps maintain appropriate muscle contractions
- Immunity: helps fight off upper respiratory infections and tuberculosis
- Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and schizophrenia: prevents loss of central nervous system cells in the brain
- Multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and Type 1 diabetes: suppresses the autoimmune response
Though vitamin D contributes to good health in many ways, caution must be exercised: too much vitamin D supplementation can be just as harmful as not getting enough. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, which means it’s stored in body fat and can build up to toxic levels over time when taken in large enough quantities. Too much can cause problems with your heart, lungs and kidneys. It can even affect your ears by causing deafness.
What, then, is the right amount? If your complexion is fair, during the summer you may only need a few minutes daily in the sun and a balanced diet with a variety of vitamin D-rich foods. If you are darker skinned or very tan, you’ll most likely require 15 to 20 minutes daily in the sun as well as a variety of vitamin D-rich foods.
With winter on the way and less of our skin exposed, we need to rely more on vitamin D-rich foods such as tuna, mackerel, salmon, beef liver, cheese and egg yolk. Other good sources are foods which have been fortified—dairy products, orange juice, soy milk and many cereals. The recommended upper limit is 600 international units (IU) which is 15 micrograms (mcg) per day.
If you think food and sun exposure may not be enough, then supplementation may be an option. Be sure to talk with your doctor, though, before supplementing. A routine blood test should be performed to see if you fall in the normal, low, or deficient category. The test results determine the amount of supplementation you need.
People who are overweight or have metabolic syndrome may require much more than the standard 600 IU per day. Also, as we age the body loses some of its ability to make vitamin D, which may result in a greater need for supplementation. Some medications and health conditions may also affect supplementation amounts.
Supplementation could be exactly what’s needed to maintain healthy vitamin D levels, but always involve your doctor for supplementation tailored to your individual age, weight, medications and health conditions.
As you enjoy the cooler weather this time of year, remember to incorporate a few more vitamin D-rich foods in your diet, especially as winter draws near. Hopefully when spring and summer roll around again, you’ll feel more liberated to soak up a moderate amount of sun—within reason, of course. After all, God created the sun for many purposes, one of which is our health!
Editor’s note: Kristen Sherman is a registered dietitian and an international board-certified lactation consultant. She also serves as a nutritional consultant for companies launching educational products. Kristen and her husband, Pastor Michael Sherman, have been CHM members since Jan. 2017 and reside in Muncie, Ind.