Vitamin D: Did You Remember to Take Your Sunshine Today?

I hate February because it is cold, gray and wet. I really cannot find anything good to say about the month, except that it is short. The first weekend in February I accomplished laying on the couch, watching too much television and eating too many cookies. By Sunday evening, I was depressed about my body, my love life and my career. To top it off, my digestive issues had flared up. 

Fortunately, my sister called and the minute she heard my voice she knew I had the “February blues” again. She pointed out that this happens to me every winter, and she insisted that I make an appointment with my doctor.

During the appointment, the doctor took a thorough history. My seasonal depression and normal digestive issues led her to a diagnosis of vitamin D deficiency. When she saw my confused look, she went on to explain that vitamin D is important to health for many reasons:

  1. Healthy Bones - Calcium is the mineral that we normally associate with bone health. However, the body requires vitamin D in order to absorb calcium. Without vitamin D, children’s bones become soft and adult bones become brittle.
  1. Healthy Immune System - A vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased autoimmunity, as well as increased susceptibility to infection.
  1. Healthy Insulin Levels - In type 2 diabetics, insufficient vitamin D has been shown to have an adverse effect on insulin secretion and glucose tolerance.
  1. Healthy Pregnancy - Pregnant women who are deficient in vitamin D are more likely to develop preeclampsia and require a C-section. They are also more likely to develop gestational diabetes.

Clearly vitamin D is extremely important, but why was she so sure that I was deficient?  Well, my “February blues” have a scientific name, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of depression that affects up to 10% of the population, and is more common in women than in men. Scientists are beginning to believe that SAD is primarily caused by a lack of sunlight, which would explain why I get depressed in the winter. 

My doctor also said that the fact that I have stomach discomfort makes it highly likely that I am vitamin D deficient. In fact, a recent British study indicated that 8 out of 10 IBS sufferers have low vitamin D levels.

There are three ways to get vitamin D. The simplest and most effective way is exposure to sunlight. Scientists think that sun exposure on bare skin (without clothing or sunscreen) for five to ten minutes, two to three times per week, is sufficient for the body to produce enough vitamin D. The problem is that vitamin D only lasts in the body for two weeks before it must be replenished. Depending on the climate where you live and your chosen profession, frequent exposure to sunlight may not be possible.

You can also get vitamin D from healthy food. Swordfish, salmon, tuna, milk, cheese and yogurt are all good sources. However, dairy foods are common triggers of stomach discomfort.

The third way to ensure that your body is getting sufficient vitamin D, is to take a supplement. The Cleveland Clinic recommends between 800 and 2000 IU of vitamin D daily. For me, particularly during the winter months, vitamin D supplements are the easiest way to correct my vitamin D deficiency.

I have been taking vitamin D supplements for almost a month now. My sister called again, and she could tell that I felt better from the moment I answered the phone. I told her that, even though the sun has yet to make an appearance, I am feeling healthy, happy and productive.