Memorial Regional Health: Soaking in enough vitamin D harder during winter months — Vitamin D essential for strong and healthy bones
- It has been shown to help prevent certain cancers.
- Early research suggests vitamin D might play a role in cognitive health, with one study showing improved cognitive function in patients with dementia.
- Vitamin D supplements can be used to help treat inherited disorders resulting from an inability to absorb or process vitamin D, such as familial hypophosphatemia.
- Long-term vitamin D supplementation reduces the risk of multiple sclerosis.
- Studies suggest people who get enough vitamin D and calcium in their diets can slow bone mineral loss, help prevent osteoporosis, and reduce bone fractures.
- Supplementing with vitamin D can prevent and treat rickets, a rare condition in children with vitamin D deficiency.
Spending our work days indoors in the wintertime, when the days are shorter, often leads to a lack of daylight in many of our lives. This could also lead to vitamin D deficiency if we’re not careful.
We generally think of calcium as the primary source behind strong, healthy bones, but vitamin D is imperative for bone and dental health, said Madysen Jourgensen, registered dietitian at Memorial Regional Health. That’s because the body can only absorb calcium when vitamin D is present, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The body makes vitamin D when direct sunlight converts a chemical in the skin into calciferol, an active form of vitamin D. This is how sunlight acts as the body’s main source of vitamin D.
“It’s also important in terms of muscle and nerve health, blood pressure regulation, and helping your body fight infection,” Jourgensen said. “Research is also being conducted to determine if vitamin D has a positive impact in various chronic diseases.”
Vitamin D deficiency
Just like deficiencies in any vitamin or mineral, a vitamin D deficiency can have health consequences. When weak bones and decreased immune function are some of the risks of a deficiency, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough of the so-called sunshine vitamin.
“Vitamin D deficiency can result in rickets in children (weak bones) and osteomalacia (bone pain, weak bones) that may lead to osteoporosis in adults,” Jourgensen said.
The recommended intake of vitamin D is 600 internation units, or IUs, per day for people age 1 to 70. Jourgensen points out that vitamin D can be harmful in doses beyond 4,000 IUs per day.
The only way to determine your vitamin D levels is a blood test.
“As we age, we lose some of our ability to utilize vitamin D from the sun efficiently, so it may be beneficial to ask your doctor about vitamin D if you are over the age of 65,” Jourgensen said.
Food sources of vitamin D are limited, but the best sources include fatty fish — such as salmon, canned tuna, and sardines canned in oil — and you can find other foods that are fortified with vitamin D, such as milk, yogurt, juice, and cereals. Jourgensen said vitamin D is also found in some mushrooms, egg yolks, and liver.
“Trying to include food sources of vitamin D each day, especially during the winter months, can help ensure you are getting enough,” Jourgensen said. “Try to go outside and get some sunshine — about 15 minutes without sunscreen, even though sunscreen is important in terms of decreasing skin cancer risk — each day can help increase your levels, as well.”
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