By MYX coach Lauren Sambataro
The Winter Solstice, which falls on December 21, is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It marks the start of winter and a seemingly endless stretch of shorter, darker days.
Fewer daylight hours and plunging temps means we’re spending more time indoors and getting less sunlight exposure, which our bodies need to produce vitamin D naturally. Fun fact: while vitamin D is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” because it’s produced in your skin in response to sunlight, it is actually a hormone.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus, which we use to build and maintain healthy bones. It also helps reduce chronic inflammation (which we now know can cause all sorts of health issues if left unchecked).
Most people are deficient in vitamin D—women even more so for a couple of reasons. First, we tend to hide from the sun because we’ve been led to believe that its UV rays are dangerous. That’s partly true — UV rays can be harmful, but only with overexposure.
And second, we all experience a lot of inflammation in our bodies. Some of the biggest culprits: our toxic environment (air pollution, chemicals in the household and beauty products we use), the processed, artificial foods (read junk food!) we eat, and of course from stress. Because one of vitamin D’s biggest roles is to fight inflammation, our bodies use up all our D to do that—which doesn’t leave a lot left over for its other jobs.
The amount of vitamin D your skin makes depends on a couple of factors, including the time of day, the season, the latitude of the town you live in, and your skin pigmentation. As we move deeper into the winter months, the sun’s rays become more indirect, and oftentimes too weak to trigger vitamin D production. The window for our bodies to absorb enough UVB rays closes up significantly.
A Vitamin D Lamp
If natural light is scarce (or if you have a health condition that prevents proper absorption of vitamin D) a vitamin D lamp can be beneficial. Some sun lamps or light boxes, which are used as light therapy to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), emit fluorescent light without UV wavelengths. However, to help your skin make vitamin D UVB light is essential.
Over the years, UVB rays have gotten a bad rap, but the fact is, our bodies are designed to benefit from sun exposure, as long as it’s in safe, measured amounts. There are a number of brands on the market, though Sperti is currently the only one that’s FDA-recognized as shown to treat vitamin D deficiency when used correctly. As always, before trying out any new treatment protocol talk to your doctor first.
The dminder App
This super cool app takes the guesswork out of how much sunshine you need to make vitamin D. I use it (it’s free, for iOS and android) whenever I go into the sun. Just plug in your personal stats (DOB, skin type, age, recent vitamin D test results (optional), and the amount of supplemental D you take, if any) and allow the app to access your location. It will take into account the altitude where you live, the season, the time of day, where the sun is in the sky, and calculate when the sun’s rays are adequate to help you produce vitamin D … and when you’ve had enough.
I live in New York, and up until the end of August, my vitamin D window ran until 5 pm. Now it ends at 1 pm. That’s a vast difference.
Vitamin D Supplements
If you’ve ever shopped for vitamin D supplements, you may have noticed two types: D2 (ergocalciferol), which is synthetically produced, and D3 (cholecalciferol), the biologically active form produced in humans and animals when skin is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D2 and D3 are not created equal when it comes to raising vitamin D levels as the liver metabolizes them differently. Studies have found that vitamin D3 is more effective at raising vitamin D levels than D2 supplements.
D3 is most effective when taken along with Vitamin K2. These two vitamins work synergistically to make sure calcium ends up in the right places in your body (i.e., your bones) and not in your arteries. I like this brand but here are a few others to check out.
Vitamins D and K are both fat soluble, so including adequate healthy fats in your diet means you’ll be better able to absorb them. Many vegans, or those following a very low-fat diet, may find that they’re not getting the proper amount of fats to be able to metabolize these nutrients.
Few foods are natural sources of vitamin D
- High quality fatty fish like salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel (and also cod liver oil) are among the best sources.
- Egg yolks and mushrooms provide small amounts.
- Almost all of our milk supply is fortified with 400 IU of vitamin D per quart; vitamin D is added to many breakfast cereals and some brands of orange juice. It’s always best not to rely on fortified foods for your nutrients; you want them to come from real, whole foods.
…Even if there’s a deep freeze going on, and the urge to curl up on the couch is strong! Go for a walk. Or take your cup of hot cacao and sit outside!
Too little sunlight can affect our emotional as well as physical wellbeing, and throw off our circadian rhythms, including our sleep-wake cycle. Natural sunlight does a great job boosting our serotonin, the body’s “feel good” chemical, as well as our levels of D. So download dminder on your phone to figure out your vitamin D window, and … let the sunshine in!