The sun – that bright, glowing orb that many of us Portlanders are soaking up as we prepare to not see it for the next several months – provides our bodies with an essential dose of vitamin D. The vitamin is naturally produced by our skin when exposed to sunlight.
Vitamin D is essential for good health, but only sunlight of certain brightness and duration can stimulate adequate production. Due to the combination of cloud cover and the low angle of the sun in the sky in northern latitudes, many in the Pacific Northwest (studies estimate up to 95%) are vitamin D deficient. Also, our ability to produce vitamin D in the skin appears to decline as we age, making it even more likely that older adults don’t get enough.
Why should we be concerned? For many reasons. Inadequate vitamin D levels are associated with weak bones and muscles, cardiovascular disease, and poor immune function. Lack of vitamin D may be a big part of why we get so many more colds in the winter than the summer. Vitamin D deficiency is sometimes implicated in Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. This acronym is not a coincidence: those who suffer from SAD experience a significant drop in mood during the darker months of the year. More vitamin D is a common prescription for this disorder, but whether you suffer from SAD or not, an increase of vitamin D in your diet may provide a nice lift to your mood. Plus, who doesn’t feel better when they get fewer winter colds?
Breast fed infants are especially prone to vitamin D deficiency. Their mothers need to consume very high amounts of it (or get quite a lot of sun) in order to produce milk with adequate vitamin D. Current recommendations are an extra 400 IU’s a day for breastfeeding babies, 100 units a day for kids, and 2000 units a day for adults.
The only great dietary sources of vitamin D are fish, with cod liver oil being the best. Other oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna are also decent sources. Egg yolks contain a bit of vitamin D (about 20 units). Some common foods are also used as carriers for supplemental vitamin D, such as milk, yogurt, cereal, and orange juice (check the labels). Try to incorporate these into your diet frequently.
However, please note that the best form of vitamin D is called D3; sometimes processed foods will be fortified with another form, D2, which is less effective. We also sell a potent liquid vitamin D3 supplement and high quality cod liver oil at The Dragontree. Talk to your doctor about Vitamin D and consider a basic vitamin D blood test if you’re really feeling down this winter.
– Briana Borten