December Fuel

Being that winter is not my favorite season of the year (in fact, once Autumn hits, I can barely appreciate the beauty of the changing landscape due to the fact cold dreary days are inevitably closer), I thought I’d do a little research into any common vitamin/mineral deficiencies that may occur from December through April.  I didn’t have to delve too far - Vitamin D deficiency is a hot topic, particularly during the months we don’t get much sun exposure.  One website I found even had the title of “Vitamin D - The Winter Deficiency”.  

Vitamin D is primarily produced via sun exposure through our skin.  In more northern climates (north of Washington, D.C.) from October through March, it becomes harder to produce Vitamin D, as the sun’s angle and winter months prevent proper exposure.  In the summer months however, you can easily get your daily dose by spending 15-20 minutes outside without sunscreen on (more time may be necessary for people with darker skin).  To keep levels up in  the winter months, other alternatives are supplementation through food or vitamins.  

There are a few natural foods which contain Vitamin D, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel.  Most dairy products and dairy alternative products are fortified with Vitamin D, along with breakfast cereals, some yogurts, orange juice, and margarine.  Supplementation with vitamins might be necessary to ensure you get the full amount required; the average daily intake as recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board is as follows:

Birth to 12 months:   400 IU (IU = “International Units”)

Children 1 - 13 years: 600 IU
Teens 14 - 18 years: 600 IU
Adults 19 - 70 years: 600 IU
Adults 71 and older: 800 IU
Pregnant & Breasfeeding Women: 600 IU

So what happens when we don’t get enough vitamin D?  The primary issue (and oldest known problem) is soft, thin and/or brittle bones, also known as Rickets (kids) or Osteomalacia (adults).  Vitamin D also plays a key role in the body of absorption of calcium and other essential minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus and zinc.  It also promotes proper cell development and differentiation (determining which cells become skin vs. muscle, for example) in addition to helping control our immune system (super important during cold and flu season!).  There are other studies that have been done which indicate sadness and depression may be a symptom of low vitamin D levels, along with hypertension and muscle weakness and pain.  

The best way to tell if you’ve got enough levels of vitamin D is to have your doctor draw some blood for testing.  If you live in a northern climate, don’t spend too much time outside or don’t consume many foods fortified with vitamin D, it might be worth getting a test done; as many one third of the US population has low vitamin D levels (
source) - some may not even know it.  Take care of yourself this winter!