There are plenty of to-dos as we transition from the colorful, brisk days of fall to the darker, cooler days of winter. From switching over our wardrobe to preparing our tires for wintry mixes, many of our habits must be altered. But, it isn’t only physical shifts to be mindful of. Fewer hours of sun and below-zero temperatures also generally mean less vitamin D. Many people choose to take a supplement during the coldest season of the year to ensure that they are getting enough of this important bone-building mineral.
Dr. David Greuner from NYC Surgical Associates explains that while vitamin D is essential to maintain your highest level of health, our bodies store it in our livers and fat tissues. So, our levels don’t necessarily take a nosedive as soon as winter arrives. However, he does add that vitamin D levels do decrease during these months. So, exposing ourselves to sunlight and eating foods rich with this mineral is recommended. And, depending on certain lifestyle or demographic factors, you could innately need more vitamin D than others. Here’s a guide to understanding exactly how much is required for your personal vitality.
You need more vitamin D if you live in a northern climate.
Board-Certified Chiropractor Dr. Alex Tauberg DC, CSCS, CCSP, EMR has an easy rule of thumb for determining if additional vitamin D is necessary for your diet: If you live in a state where it snows, you probably need a bit more than your folks who bask under year-round 70-degree weather (looking at you California). “Our bodies are able to make vitamin D when we are exposed to the sun’s rays. Unfortunately, if you live in a place where you are not as exposed to the sun as much as you are during the warmer months, you might need more vitamin D,” he explains.
You need more vitamin D if you work in an office.
If you’re currently practicing that nine to five tango on the regular, you know there’s nothing more soul-crushing than going into the office in the early morning, working all day, and never leaving before the sun goes down. Alan Mensch, MD, the senior vice president of medical affairs at Plainview Hospital explains that professionals who spend most of their time inside during the winter are at risk for deficiency because you never greet the great outdoors. Even if it’s cloudy—and okay, really, really cold—a simple walk outside at lunchtime can do wonders for your mood, happiness and of course, your vitamin D levels.
You need more vitamin D if you dislike cold weather.
Some people can’t wait to layer up and head to the slopes, practicing their skiing skills to perfection. However, others count down the days until spring. Snow and winter winds aren’t for everyone. If you’d rather ‘pass’ on the season altogether, Dr. Tauberg says that you’re more likely to suffer from too little vitamin D. “If you don’t enjoy the winter conditions at all and spend all of your time inside, you will have very little exposure to the sun and therefore your body will produce less vitamin D,” he explains. If you just can’t force yourself into the wonderland outside, consider talking to a trusted physician about your options.
You need more vitamin D if you have darker skin.
Fatima Hussain, MD from EHE Health says that people with darker skin have higher concentrations of melanin production. This offers them higher protection against UV lights during the summer. However, it has the unfortunate side effect of making them more susceptible to vitamin D deficiencies when it’s cold outside. How come? Dr. Greuner says that they need two to three times more sun exposure to earn the nutrients their skin and body needs. To make up the difference, Dr. Greuner recommends taking a supplement and eating foods rich in vitamin D, such as fatty fish, cheese, and egg yolks. He also says to add foods fortified with vitamin D into your diet. These include some dairy products, cereals, and orange juice.
You need more vitamin D if you live in a big city.
You might forget that there is smog in the air if you live in a major metro city like New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago. But, your body will give you a clue when it’s aching for more vitamin D. Dr. Grenier says that those who live in areas with heavy air pollution are likely to experience decreases in vitamin D production. The sun is being concealed not only by snow clouds but by grime, too. If you feel under the weather more often, feel sadness, or believe that you need a little pick-me-up, chat with your doctor ASAP.
You need more vitamin D if you’re a senior citizen.
If you happen to spend more time at home because you struggle to get around on your own, the winter may be a lonely and difficult time for you. Dr. Hussain says that a vitamin D deficiency is common among the elderly. Plus, it may contribute to a decrease in bone mass that can lead to an increased risk of falls and broken bones. “Taking a daily supplement is a great way to ensure [that] you receive [adequate amounts of] vitamin D to help with calcium absorption. [However], exercising has proven to be the most beneficial in decreasing the risk of fall[s],” she explains.
Whether we like it or not, winter is on its way. Stay aware of how you feel during these darker, colder months. Talk to your doctor about your vitamin D intake before supplementing on your own.