I prefer to eat my vitamins and nutrients (it makes cooking a delicious puzzle to solve!), but also, many vitamin supplements bombard us with large doses that get wasted, so to speak, on a party trick of neon yellow urine. There’s also not enough conclusive research for me personally on the safety and possible effects of long term high doses of vitamins on our bodies. I will take vitamins in the short-term for certain conditions – e.g. probiotics to help rebalance an upset digestive track, vitamin C when a cold is coming on – and now that the winter solstice is only 3 weeks away, the days are getting shorter, the skies are getting grayer, the temperature is dropping, all of which means fewer opportunities to get sunlight, and I’m thinking about the levels of Vitamin D in myself.
We first learned about the existence of Vitamin D because of the disease Rickets, a bone softening disease in children which is caused by a severe deficiency of the compound. However, in recent years, low levels of Vitamin D have been linked to many other health conditions running the gamut from minor to major, including muscle pain, injury recovery, cardiovascular function, cancer, autoimmune disorders, gestational diabetes, multiple sclerosis (MS), and depression. There is still much study that needs to happen, it’s unclear what is causation and what is correlation, but in the meantime, why wait on science if moderate supplements do make you feel better?
Our bodies can’t perform photosynthesis like plants, but there are biological processes we have that require sunlight – namely the production of Vitamin D. All vertebrate animals do it and you don’t have to worry if you’re sun sensitive (or trying to reduce the risk of skin cancer or wrinkles), a small dose is extremely powerful. The recommended daily amount of Vitamin D for adults is 600 IUs and research has shown that 30 minutes in the sun can produce between 10,000 – 20,000 IUs – that means our bodies can get our recommended daily dosage in approximately 2 minutes of sunshine! Sadly, many of us can’t get that much direct sun – think about how easy it is to spend an entire day inside a house, a car/bus/train, offices, and stores. UV rays are required for our body’s conversion of sunlight into Vitamin D, so even standing by a window won’t work – this also means that wearing sunscreen reduces our body’s ability to produce it. I am very sun sensitive, I burn easily, and my skin is prone to psoriasis – an outbreak can happen because of a sunburn. However, I try to be outside in direct sun for at least few minutes a day, even if it’s just standing with my morning coffee or tea or while letting the dog out. Research has shown these few minutes of direct sun even actually help me prevent psoriasis outbreaks – some dermatologists are now even prescribing controlled UV treatments.
In addition to a pesky skin condition, I’m also prone to both mild bouts of depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder, so every year around this time I try to come up with different plans in the wintertime. In the past I’ve taken fish oil tablets which was relatively successful, but I wonder if the reason for their success is because of the Vitamin D contained therein. (Pro-tip: if you do take fish oil tablets, keep them in the freezer and you won’t have fishy burps!) This month I’ve decided to take a vitamin D supplement every day and see if I notice positive changes. It’s day two, and despite it being a dreary, chilly, grey day, I’ve been in a good mood, had reasonably high energy levels, and my to-do list doesn’t make me feel despondent! I will still try to get outdoors on cold sunny days to let my body make some Vitamin D on it’s own, but if the extra 1,000 IUs everyday help make the season brighter for me, you might find it works out for you as well.