How to combat vitamin D deficiency during short winter days

Vitamin D is an important nutrient for healthy bones, muscles and metabolism

How to combat vitamin D deficiency during short winter days

Your body makes vitamin D when skin is exposed to sunlight, but production often drops with the shorter days of winter, especially in the northern hemisphere. This could increase the risk for vitamin D deficiency.

Tami Gangestad, MS, RD, CNSC, LN, LD, a registered dietitian at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, explained that vitamin D plays an important role in promoting calcium and phosphorous absorption – both crucial for bone health.

Vitamin D is also involved in supporting the immune system, hormone regulation, cell growth, muscle function and cardiovascular health.

Risks of vitamin D deficiency

Nearly 37% of adults worldwide have vitamin D levels below the recommended amounts, according to research published in the journal Metabolites. Severe deficiency is reported in 7% of the global population.

In the U.S., studies have found that 14% to 18% of adults have low levels of vitamin D.

Without enough vitamin D, bones may become weak and brittle over time. In children, this condition is called rickets and remains a worldwide problem. Adults risk a softening of the bones called osteomalacia and osteoporosis. People with vitamin D deficiency also report bone pain.

Other signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include muscle weakness, fatigue and a weakened immune system. Some people also report changes in their mood and ability to concentrate.

Some people are more at risk for too little intake or absorption of vitamin D:

  • People with limited sun exposure
  • Breastfed infants
  • People with certain health conditions such as celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, kidney diseases and malabsorption syndromes
  • Athletes
  • Older adults
  • People with obesity
  • People with a history of gastric bypass surgery

Additionally, you could be missing out on this important vitamin if you have a milk allergy, lactose intolerance, or if you follow an ovo-vegetarian or vegan diet.

How to get more vitamin D

To compensate for the lack of vitamin D from sunlight, it is important to get plenty of vitamin D from foods.

“Food sources of vitamin D can be challenging to include regularly in our diet,” Gangestad said.

Food sources of vitamin D include:

  • Fatty fish such as salmon, trout, and sardines
  • Mushrooms
  • Egg yolks
  • Beef liver

There are also foods that are fortified with vitamin D, such as:

  • Cow’s milk
  • Soy milk
  • Oat milk
  • Almond milk
  • Some brands of orange juice and yogurts

If you’re having trouble consistently meeting your complete vitamin D needs, your primary care provider may advise you to take a vitamin D supplement.

Dietitians recommend children and adults get the following vitamin D amounts each day:

  • Up to 12 months of age — 400 IU
  • Ages 1-18 years — 600 IU
  • Between 18 and 70 — 600 IU
  • Older than 70 years — 800 IU

Learn more

Posted In Healthy Living, Heart, Nutrition, Orthopedics, Sioux Falls, Sports Medicine