To say this year has been a challenge is putting it pretty mildly and finding a happy balance has been down right hard. Let’s be honest – there is a lot of fear, anger, grief, and pain in our communities and families right now. All of those emotions can lead to more anxiety and depression. Add that to the coming winter months with shorter days and colder weather and the winter blues will likely be more of an issue this year than in previous. Many of us are watching to see what flu season and COVID do this winter as we spend more time indoors and our family holidays roll around. Here are two easy steps to make a difference in your mood and your health this winter – and they both have to do with vitamin D.
Is vitamin D really that big of a deal?
Vitamin D has gotten a lot of press over the years as a way of managing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or that somewhat depressed mood that affects many of us during the winter months. The cool thing is that vitamin D plays a bigger role in our health than just supporting our mood. Vitamin D is a big player in bone density and strength. Before I left my job in public health, we were considering ordering vitamin D for our tuberculosis patients because there was a growing amount of research showing those patients healed more quickly if they had a good vitamin D level. Even now with COVID, healthcare providers have seen both firsthand and through the available research that a patient’s vitamin D level can significantly impact the extent of illness and speed of recovery related to COVID. And one more – there is even some research suggesting that vitamin D can help both with decreasing your risk for and the severity of illness related to influenza. Please know that I am not saying vitamin D is the cure for all of our woes, but it definitely has a role in our overall health, especially related to mood and infectious diseases. And almost half of us in the US are vitamin D deficient.
How do I know if I need vitamin D?
There are a multitude of different factors that impact how well your body can make its own vitamin D – everything from food choices to how much pigment is in your skin. Dietary vitamin D is found in many fish and dairy products which can present challenges for those following a vegetarian or vegan way of eating or those with food sensitivities. Our bodies use sunlight to create vitamin D in our skin which can be decreased by the use of sunscreens and the amount of melanin, or pigment, naturally in our skin. When it is cold outside, we wear more layers and cover our skin which acts much like sunscreen, decreasing our ability to make our own vitamin D.
Step 1: Get tested
Based on some of the risk factors, you can start to guess about your risk for vitamin D deficiency, but the best way to know is to get tested. Your healthcare provider can order a very simple blood test to check your vitamin D level. And now is actually one of the best times to check it – we’re at the end of summer and our levels are currently the highest they will be all year. Your vitamin D level will likely do nothing but decrease between now and next July. Targeting a level between 50 and 60 nmol/L will offer the most benefit to both mood and general health. Your provider may have a different target, so be sure to discuss with them their reasons why. Make sure you understand and agree with their approach.
Vitamin D Definitions
After 15 years in public health, I love definitions! Below is the table from the National Institutes of Health that defines the risk levels of vitamin D. Tables like this make me happy because they make it easy to see targets. The third row is what we are aiming for with vitamin D levels – at least 50nmol/L.
|Table 1: Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] Concentrations and Health |
|<30||<12||Associated with vitamin D deficiency, which can lead to rickets in infants and children and osteomalacia in adults|
|30 to <50||12 to <20||Generally considered inadequate for bone and overall health in healthy individuals|
|≥50||≥20||Generally considered adequate for bone and overall health in healthy individuals|
|>125||>50||Linked to potential adverse effects, particularly at >150 nmol/L (>60 ng/mL)|
Find the original page here: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
Vitamin D can be tricky because you can take too much which will decrease the benefit gained by taking it at all. It is a fat-soluble vitamin which means you do not just pee out what you don’t need…your body holds on to fat-soluble vitamins in your tissues. This is one reason I really encourage you to work with your healthcare provider when it comes to supplementing vitamin D.
Step 2: Supplement for a while
I use a number of supplements in my clinical practice for most of my clients, but my goal is that we all become skilled in listening to our bodies. Through different symptoms or food cravings, our bodies will tell us what micronutrients we need, it is just a matter of learning the signs. There is a lot of wisdom built in to our physical being. When we can listen and read the messages our bodies are telling us, we can use supplements as a tool instead of an expensive crutch that we keep taking for decades. With few exceptions, supplements should not be a “forever” thing.
Vitamin D supplements are readily available and the quality varies widely. Ask your healthcare provider if they recommend a particular brand or, more importantly, ask specifically what form of vitamin D and if it needs to have anything else in it. For instance, I recommend a vitamin D3 plus K2 for my clients as a maintenance, but may use a different formulation to get someone’s low level up to the target. And it does make a difference when you take vitamin D. Always take it with a meal and preferably one with some good dietary fat – remember vitamin D is fat-soluble so absorption is increased when you eat it with fat.
It’s a screwdriver, not a magic bullet
Vitamin D can make a really big difference for a lot of us who are challenged with the winter blues, and it definitely presents opportunities when managing our risk for both COVID and influenza. That being said, it is not a magic bullet. It is simply a micronutrient many of us are at risk of having lower than optimal levels. It’s biochemistry. It is one tool in the toolbox – but it does offer a big impact for a single vitamin!
Is maximizing your health through self-care an interest of yours? Me, too! Sign up below to join my email list to receive my blogs, newsletters and special offers in your inbox. You can also join us on Facebook – just search @gracemedstudio.