How often do you feel sluggish, tired, or just plain blah during the winter? I know I do.
In the past, I’ve struggled with seasonal depression (AKA: seasonal affective disorder) especially after Christmas is over and I’m looking down the barrel of the long sludge through the yuckiest part of winter until I can really feel that good ole sunshine again.
Sound familiar? If so, this is why we need to be cognizant and in control of our vitamin D intake and levels during the cold, winter months.
A 2011 study published in Nutrition Research revealed, 41.6 percent of Americans are deficient in vitamin D. So, when you live in the mountains where things can be foggy and cold from about November through March or April, vitamin D and its mood-boosting qualities are vital.
How Important is Vitamin D, Really?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can include:
- Muscle weakness
- And mood changes, such as depression
Folks in mountainous, agricultural regions like Highland County, Virginia, likely suffer from sore muscles and pain anyway especially if you’re a farmer, logger, or physically-driven worker. Plus, putting out extra effort to simply walk through inches-to-feet of snow and/or mud can tire you out quickly. (And, office workers can experience just the same amount of pain. Sitting at a desk for hours on end is no joke!)
Not to mention, vitamin D also helps with strong bone health and calcium absorption. As a result – and this is important – the bone and joint benefits of proper vitamin D levels can even help prevent falls in senior citizens! (Shout out to Harmony Leonard with Highland County Valley Program for Aging Services!)
Additionally, healthy vitamin D levels can prevent:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Immune system disorders
- Multiple sclerosis
- Muscle cramps and spasms
- Some types of cancers, such as colon, prostate, and breast
Moreover, some healthcare professionals are speculating healthy vitamin D levels can help COVID-19 patient recovery. (However, all these new findings are just that – NEW. Other health care professionals indicate more research is needed, so do your due diligence and stay informed.)
Regardless, vitamin D is good for you! (And, if it helps combat COVID-19, that’s an added bonus!)
How to Naturally Boost Vitamin D Levels
So, what can you do? Since vitamin D is literally produced by your skin through contact with sunlight, the winter months definitely make it harder, but here are two very focused efforts you can incorporate in your days to boost vitamin D intake:
- Spend 15 to 20 Minutes in Sunlight – Yes, even in the winter, this works. The best time of day to get outside during the cold months is between 10 am and 3 pm. Some sources say we need to venture out three days per week, some say more. But, the bottom line is – if you get in three-to-four days of sunlight exposure, it can help. I hear what most of you office workers are thinking: But that’s when I’m stuck inside? That’s where your lunch break comes in. Even if you’re staring down a huge to-do list, a 15-20 minute walk in the sun can help boost energy and increase productivity, which can help you knock out those tasks before the end of the day. As a result, you’ll start your next day feeling even better and more calm. So, schedule that time and be diligent about giving your body the vitamin D it needs to function at its best. If it’s cold, bundle up!
- Incorporate Vitamin D-Rich Foods in Your Diet – According to 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, these are foods to incorporate in your diet for increased vitamin D intake:
- Rainbow Trout
- Fish Oil
- Fatty fish, such as tuna, mackerel, oysters, shrimp, and sardines
- Grilled Portabella mushrooms exposed to UV light
- Whole milk
- Whole chocolate milk
- Orange juice
- Almond milk
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Cereals that are vitamin D-fortified
- And… (if you’re a fan…) beef liver
Luckily, Highland County has plenty of Rainbow Trout available in our streams and rivers, but you can also purchase some at the Virginia Trout Company (now managed by Laurel Hill Trout Farm) located on route 220 north between Monterey and Blue Grass/Forks of Water.
The local Dollar General has us covered with whole milk, whole chocolate milk, yogurt, orange juice, almond milk, eggs, and cheese.
And, if you need any additional items not readily-available in Highland, contact The Curly Maple, and they’ll add your wishes to their weekly shopping list. Just pick it up at their store in Monterey! (They also usually have a variety of cheeses stocked in their fridge, locally-sourced eggs, and often have salmon in their freezer.)
Can I Get Too Much Vitamin D?
Yes. Too much vitamin D can put one at risk for hypercalcemia, a condition that actually weakens the bones, creates kidney stones, and interferes with how your heart and brain work. But don’t worry – according to Texas A&M Health, too much time in the sun won’t cause vitamin D toxicity. Only those taking an over-abundance of supplements are at risk.
Talk to Your Healthcare Provider
If you feel you’re vitamin D deficient, speak to a healthcare representative who can specifically assess your levels and develop a personalized plan that fits your body and system.
In fact, if you experience any of the above-stated symptoms, talk to your doctor anyway – whether or not you believe you may be vitamin D deficient. (Some, who don’t believe they are, end up finding out they’re lacking!)
Fun Fact: Younger, more fair-skinned individuals convert sunshine into vitamin D more efficiently than those who have darker skin. (Another reason I’m thankful for my Scots-Irish roots!)
About the Author
Dorothy Stephenson grew up on her family's cattle operation in Meadowdale, located in the southwest corner of Highland County. When she wasn't on horseback helping her father gather and work cattle, you'd likely find her (still on horseback) jumping creeks in her family's nearby "Big Pasture." Today, though she doesn't ride horses much anymore, she has her own cattle, land, and expansion plans for a farm. Additionally, (and with the inherited, Stephenson, entrepreneurial spirit) she owns two small businesses in Highland County - Sundance Media & Design and Sundance Studio & Productions, which houses another of Dorothy's long-time loves - Clogging. Dorothy loves exploring new places, skills, and ideas, and she intends to live life to the fullest as long as it will let her. (Oh! And she LOVES Christmas!)