See this glorious celestial object recently? Are you feeling a little blue? You may be suffering from a vitamin D deficiency. (For Spectrum Health Beat)
Have you seen this glorious celestial object recently? Are you feeling a little blue? You may be suffering from a vitamin D deficiency. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Long, gray winters? Michigan residents are all too familiar.

Countless cloudy days can drag down more than just our mood—the lack of exposure to sunlight also brings down our vitamin D levels. And that’s not good for our overall health.

How does vitamin D work?

Vitamin D is a nutrient the body produces when the skin is directly exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. We can also get the vitamin D we need from certain foods and dietary supplements.

“Vitamin D is a well-known means of preventing rickets and maintaining bone health,” said Jessica Corwin, MPH, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Spectrum Health Healthier Communities.

“Now it’s gaining popularity for its potential to reduce or prevent depression, Alzheimer’s disease, certain types of cancer, heart disease, diabetes—and even lowering our likelihood for coming down with the flu virus,” Corwin said.

Although researchers haven’t yet confirmed a link between these diseases and vitamin D, Corwin is watching the ongoing research closely.

In the meantime, she said, “as a mom, I will continue to ensure I am providing healthy sources of vitamin D for my entire family.”

Who’s at risk for vitamin D deficiency?

There are several groups of people who may not get enough vitamin D through sun exposure or through their diet. They include:

  • People who spend the winter in northern climates
  • People who, for various reasons, have little exposure to direct sunlight
  • People with dark skin, which produces vitamin D at a lower rate
  • Those who are overweight or obese
  • Adults older than 65, whose natural vitamin D production is slowing down
  • Breast-fed infants, because babies are often (appropriately) protected from the sun’s rays and the vitamin D levels in the mother’s breast milk often don’t make up the difference

How to get more vitamin D

If you want to boost your vitamin D levels, start with the following food sources:

  • Cereal fortified with vitamin D
  • Beef liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Milk and yogurt fortified with vitamin D
  • Orange juice fortified with vitamin D
  • Tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel and some other types of fatty fish

You can also increase your vitamin D intake through supplements.

The Institute of Medicine recommends a dietary intake of 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day for most people in the United States (800 for those older than age 70). For breast-feeding infants, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a supplement of 400 IU per day.

Because everyone’s situation is unique and a blood test is the only real measure of the body’s vitamin D levels, ask your health care provider to help determine the amount of D you need and the best ways to get it.