Vitamin D Deficiency During The Winter
Vitamin D deficiency is very common, but it becomes more marked during the winter and can cause health repercussions. Here’s how you can get the right amount without damaging your body.
Vitamin D is often called the sunshine vitamin as it’s made in the skin post exposure to sunlight, meaning that during the winter, there’s a higher chance of developing a vitamin D deficiency. This is true especially among older adults who may spend less time outside due to low temperatures, but this can have severe repercussions as vitamin D is essential for various functions like immunity building, calcium absorption and strengthening bones and muscles. For senior citizens, where cases of low bone density are already high, this can worsen conditions like osteoporosis or increase the likelihood of them developing. It can even increase the risk of fractures from falls. Studies are also being done on the connection between low vitamin D levels and conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and certain autoimmune diseases.
A 2019 study found that around 70-90 percent of Indians were deficient in vitamin D. This can be explained by myriad factors: less time spent outside where one can get direct sun exposure (this lack of exposure to sunlight gets exacerbated during the winter, worsening the problem); a diet that is not nutritionally well-rounded; and lack of awareness about the fat-soluble vitamin and how to help your body obtain it.
For adults, the recommended amount of vitamin D is 600 IU (international units), and for senior citizens above 70 years of age, it’s 800 IU. In order to reach this, a combination of interventions are required:
Exposure to sun
The best way to get your dose of vitamin D is naturally through direct sunlight. You don’t need to spend hours in the sun for this—short periods are enough, but the exact duration does vary depending on certain factors. For example, people with darker skin may need to spend more time in the sun to get the same amount of vitamin D as those with lighter skin tones. However, there are some things to take note of: ultraviolet B rays, which is what’s needed to make vitamin D, cannot pass through windows. This means that simply sitting by a window won’t help as much as sitting in an outdoor spot like a balcony or a park. Next, sunscreen—while extremely important—will also not let your body absorb the rays. Only for this short period should you forego sunscreen, but if you plan on staying out longer in the sun, do apply a strong sunscreen. Without it, one does run the risk of skin cancer. If your skin burns easily, speak to your healthcare practitioner about the correct way to get your vitamin D.
During the winter, you may have to add some vitamin D sources to your diet, especially if you’re not getting out as much. These dietary sources include oily fish like salmon, eggs, mushrooms, cheese and fortified products like milk, yoghurt and some juices, too.
It may be difficult to get your complete vitamin D requirements from food, and if you think you need additional help, it’s best to speak to your healthcare practitioner about adding a supplement to your diet. However, be sure to stick to the dosage as excess vitamin D can be harmful as well, and can lead to nausea, weakness, kidney damage, and even high levels of calcium that can cause disorientation or heart problems.
At Seva At Home, we produce a wealth of free health information to help elders live healthier, happier lives. This has been produced by independent research carried out by the Seva At Home team. This information is not a replacement for medical advice. Please consult your physician for relevant medical diagnosis and advice.
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