How to get your Vitamin D in winter

If you are cooped up indoors all day, winter can be downright gloomy. With the shorter days, for most people it’s pitch black when you leave home and night has already fallen by the time you finish work. So how can we get that ever-important Vitamin D when we’re always in the dark?

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is often known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because sun exposure is our main way of getting it – it’s produced in our skin after exposure to UVB rays. According to our Ministry of Health, close to one third of New Zealanders have low levels of Vitamin D, and some studies have shown that deficiency could be linked to depression, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, weaker bones and a range of other illnesses.

How much Vitamin D do we need?

If you’re out and about in the sun, your body can produce the amount of Vitamin D necessary for your day in as little as 5 to 20 minutes. This means that even if you can manage to eat your lunch outside on a park bench, or even just do some outdoor gardening or exercise in the weekend for a short time, it will likely have done the trick.

As there are very few food sources of Vitamin D, sunlight is our primary way of getting it, although some foods such as fatty fish, eggs and fortified milk/milk products can help raise your levels.

A number of studies have suggested that taking a supplement of just 10mcg per day can help people with low levels of sun exposure. Remember that while too little can cause problems, taking too much of a vitamin may be harmful – so ensure you follow the instructions on the bottle label or from your healthcare professional.

You may not even need to do anything at all, as your body is capable of storing Vitamin D for between 30 and 60 days if you had good levels before the cold weather hit.

Staying sun smart

Of course, one of the things about growing up in New Zealand is that we have a harsh sun and increasing your sun exposure can also increase your risk of skin cancer. While getting your Vitamin D is important, it’s also important to stay sunsafe – especially once the warmer weather and increased daylight returns.

A number of healthcare specialists recommend that if you are deficient it’s better for you to be sensible, keep applying your sunscreen and opt for a supplement instead. Have a word with your doctor or dietician if you think you might need a boost of Vitamin D by using supplements.

Some things to remember about Vitamin D

  • As UVB waves don’t pass through glass, sitting inside by a window on a sunny day won’t raise your Vitamin D levels.
  • How much sun exposure you need to produce enough Vitamin D depends on a range of things – including your natural skin colour, your age, some medical conditions and some medicines. Talk to your GP if you are concerned about safe sun exposure.
  • Sun beds are not a recommended way of upping your Vitamin D as there is increased risk of skin cancer.
  • There are studies that have indicated sunscreens may limit how much Vitamin D you receive from the sun, but remember that staying sun smart is more important when it comes to outdoor sun exposure. You should aim to make sure you never get sunburn.
  • For more information on keeping sunsafe, visit www.sunsmart.org.nz and www.cancernz.org.nz.

Image / FreeDigitalPhotos.net – Evgeni Dinev

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