Miss The Sun? Your Body Does, Too—What To Do To Get Enough Vitamin D Despite Life Indoors
Get your daily fix of Vitamin D, a.k.a., the sunshine vitamin responsible for healthy bones and muscles plus a sunny mood
The COVID-19 crisis brought a lot of things with it; mostly bad (there's no arguing with that), but also some good.
For one thing, it's made a lot of us a lot more health-conscious and proactive with our well-being. There's a renewed interest in healing and recovery plus strengthening and building, both of which give new meaning to the adage that prevention is better than cure.
We ourselves have learned a decent amount of new things about staying in shape, including how vitamins aid our body's optimal functioning, and at this specific point in history, how vitamins help us stay safe with a pandemic hanging over our heads.
With May proving to be the hottest and sunniest month yet this year, what comes to mind is good old Vitamin D, a.k.a., the sunny vitamin. As it turns out, Vitamin D offers benefits (and protective factors!) to us all and it's incredibly important we each get the appropriate amount of it every day.
Read on to know why Vitamin D is so important, and why it does wonders for our bodies, and our minds, too!
What's Vitamin D anyway?
Skipping the scientific jargon for the sake of brevity, what you should first know is that vitamins are generally teeny tiny amounts of chemical compounds that our body needs to function. Different vitamins play different roles in keeping our physical health in tip top shape.
Vitamin D specifically is a fat-soluble chemical compound and its most noted functions are helping regulate calcium and phosphate levels in the body—minerals that are important to our teeth, bone, and heart health. Vitamin D has also been associated with protection from major illnesses such as cancer (colon, prostate, and breast), diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and, last but not the least, immune system disorders.
More often than not, most people receive (or should receive) their daily dose of Vitamin D through a balanced diet or yes, the right amount of exposure to the sun. Some people who might have dietary restrictions dictated by health-related factors or lifestyle might opt for Vitamin D supplements, too.
What foods provide Vitamin D and how exactly does sun exposure help?
Like most vitamins, Vitamin D can have many food sources, but your bets are oily fish (e.g.: tuna, mackerel, salmon, sardines), egg yolk, beef liver, cheese, as well as well-proportioned serving sizes of red meat. Orange juice and soy milk are on the list, too.
If you're not a big meat eater and have more veggies in your diet more than anything else, fear not. Vitamin D is also found in yummy and commonly found greens like kale, spinach, white beans, collard greens, and okra.
But what makes Vitamin D unique among all the other vitamins out there is its direct relationship with sunlight. When we get "healthy sun," (arguably, healthy sun exposure is limited to when the sun rises up to about 9 to 9:30 a.m.), the ultraviolet radiation emitted by sunlight stimulates our skin (yes, our skin!) to produce the amount of Vitamin D we need all on its own.
The rule of thumb is that we need both sources, food and sun, to provide our bodies with ample Vitamin D. But with life being limited to the indoors for too long a time, you can see how many people might not be getting enough sun and thus, not enough Vitamin D. And it's also not a matter of eating 10 times the amount of Vitamin D-packed food to make up for the difference; sunlight-stimulated Vitamin D is generally thought to be far more superior.
How do I know if I have a Vitamin D deficiency?
Don't freak out if you suspect you have a Vitamin D deficiency.
In fact, a Vitamin D deficiency has been one of the most common health conditions that human beings in the modern age have lived with, at least ever since civilizations mostly transferred from working outdoors to indoor environments (do you miss your office space yet?). And though it isn't life-threatening for the most part, it can put you at risk for certain health conditions, such as those we listed above, if it remains unaddressed for too long.
If you really want to know for sure if you have a Vitamin D deficiency, a simple blood test should be able to give you the results you seek. You can also ask your doctor just how much of a deficiency you have, and how to address it.
However, a Vitamin D deficiency can also show up as bodily sensations (read: aches and pains) that you can spot for yourself.
Some of the most common Vitamin D deficiency symptoms in adults include:
- Painful joints
- Achy muscles
- Cramping sensations
- A general feeling of weakness or tiredness
- Fatigue or malaise
- Getting sick more often (Have you been getting more colds or fevers? Have you become more susceptible to bad allergy attacks?)
- Moodiness (Have you been feeling down, unenergetic, not up for anything?), because Vitamin D helps regulate a little something called serotonin in the brain, which in turn, regulates mood
Note: In children with a severe deficiency, they might suffer from bone or joint deficiencies. That's because their body lacks the calcium for their skeletal system to develop properly.
What do I do if I have a Vitamin D deficiency?
The first thing is to be glad that a Vitamin D deficiency is easily corrected.
If you're one of the fortunate few who has access to outdoor places where you can enjoy morning walks, your doctor will likely tell you to incorporate some sort of activity to do outdoors for your body to get oh-so-valuable sunlight. Half an hour of healthy sun exposure three times a week and you should notice changes sooner than later.
But if COVID is proving to be a real pain and you have no choice to stay indoors, Vitamin D supplements are your new BFFs. Do know that depending on your own health profile (which includes age, health conditions, weight, and so on), you might need different levels of daily Vitamin D supplements. Don't take your friend's (or the Internet's) word for it and copy what they've been taking under the assumption that the same will work for you. Always be clear with your doctor about asking how much supplements you should take.
The best news here? Vitamin D supplements are easily accessible and there's a wide range of brands and price points to choose from. You can get them at any pharmacy or a whole foods store, too.
Again, it's not the best advice to recommend specific brands because not all supplements are created equally. Your doctor might point out that your main concern is getting enough calcium in your later years, that you need to focus on boosting your immunity, or a sporty person like yourself might need more help to keep your muscles and joints strong to sustain your active lifestyle, and all these things factor in in choosing the best kind of supplement for you.
In the end, there really shouldn't be a question about why you shouldn't ignore any kind of vitamin deficiency, even though it has no immediate effects on your health.
These days especially, it's obvious how different aspects of our health protect us from, or put us at risk for the biggest threat of all—COVID.
You'll need an overall strong and healthy mind and body, and always keep in mind how vitamins shield you from developing other diseases that are known comorbidities of COVID (such as diabetes, cancer, and immune system-related issues).
The message is always the same when it comes to staying in shape: health is wealth, and your body will thank you for taking care of it!
Opening images from Pexels