During wintertime, we don’t just get deprived of warm weather and beach days. We also tend to miss out on vitamin D—aka the “sunshine vitamin.”
“When the winter comes along, people are all bundled up so they have very little exposure to sun,” said Dr. Christopher Calapai, a Long Island-based physician board certified in family medicine, anti-aging medicine and chelation therapy.
Yet vitamin D is essential to our health. It helps our bodies fight against infections like the flu and autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis. Studies have linked it to heart disease, weight gain and depression. Research also shows sufficient vitamin D levels may also decrease our risk of cancer. In a 2015 study, epidemiologists at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found that people living in higher latitudes are twice as likely to develop leukemia than those living near the equator. “When you compare the vitamin D levels of people that live down by the equator to people up here, their levels are so much higher because they are constantly in a great deal of sun,” Dr. Calapai said. “Those diseases barely exist at all at the equator.”
Despite levels of vitamin D commonly falling in winter, many people are deficient year-round. In the decades that he’s been treating patients, Dr. Calapai said most fall in the range of anywhere between 9 and 25 nanograms per milliliter. Ideally, he likes to see vitamin D levels between 70 and 100 nanograms per milliliter.
Fatigue and pain in shins can indicate a deficiency in vitamin D. Many times, though, obvious symptoms are nonexistent. Dr. Calapai stresses the importance of getting a blood test to check vitamin levels. Since it’s nearly impossible to obtain enough vitamin D from foods—most foods don’t have enough of it—supplements are recommended. “Some people will take 1,000, some people need more like 5,000 units a day to bring their levels in the blood up,” he said. “Short of that people will not really correct the vitamin D levels they need.”