Winter is nearly in full swing, so now is a great time to talk about the importance of vitamin D. Why? Because vitamin D is typically absorbed through exposure to sunlight, something that’s hard to come by when you’re bundled from head to toe and the forecast calls for freezing rain.
What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is actually considered a vitamin and a prohormone, because it exists within the body but must be synthesized and metabolized into its biologically active form.
Why do I need vitamin D?
This fat-soluble vitamin is vital to health and may support maintenance of healthy bones and teeth, cellular function and proper functioning of the immune and nervous systems. Vitamin D is also crucial for the proper absorption of calcium and phosphorus, essential nutrients for bone health.
Do I need a vitamin D supplement?
Although it seems easy enough to acquire vitamin D through exposure to sunlight, the truth is that a majority of Americans — as many as 50% — may not be getting enough. Because vitamin D is found naturally in few food sources, it can be helpful to take a supplement. If you suspect your vitamin D levels aren’t optimal, ask your healthcare provider to check them.
Where can I get vitamin D?
Sunlight: When sunlight touches your skin, it causes a reaction that leads to the production of vitamin D. You need 15-20 minutes of direct (mid-day) sun exposure on your arms, shoulders and chest for your body to produce enough of this vitamin. For those living in Northern climates (north of San Francisco in the west or Richmond in the east), the sun’s rays may not be strong enough in the fall and winter to provide an adequate source of vitamin D.
Food: Dietary sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, oysters, dairy products, eggs, fortified foods (cereals, milk alternatives, etc.) and cod liver oil. It can be difficult to obtain enough vitamin D through food alone.
Supplements: Vitamin D supplements offer a convenient way to make sure you’re getting enough of this essential nutrient. Look for vitamin D3, as this is the same form that’s produced by your body in response to sunlight. But remember, vitamin D is fat-soluble, so make the most of your vitamin D supplement by taking it with food, preferably a meal that contains healthy fats or oils. As with any supplement, check with your doctor before taking vitamin D.