Feeling a bit down in the winter? It may be due to a lack of vitamin D
Vitamin D is mainly produced by your skin in response to ultraviolet radiation from natural sunlight.
In the winter in Tasmania the average UV level is low, we are indoors and when outdoors are well covered up. Australian research has shown that there is connection between low levels of vitamin D and depression or “seasonal affective disorder” S.A.D. in people. Older men and women with lower levels of vitamin D are more prone to become depressed new research shows.
Depression is only one factor associated with vitamin D. What are some of the other health effects of vitamin D?
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium so it is crucial for strong bones and muscle development and in preventing osteoporosis. Low levels can increase risk of musculoskeletal conditions such as
Bone and muscle pain
Rickets soft and weakened bones in children
Osteopenia (weak fragile bones known as osteoporosis in adults).
Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to increased risk of heart disease, bowel cancer, infections, and auto immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis though more research is needed for conclusive evidence on this.
Recent studies have found that low vitamin D levels in elderly adults are much more common than was thought before. It has now been thought to cause increase in fractures, physical weakness, frailty and chronic illnesses.
How much sunlight do we need to produce vitamin D?
Most people with fair to olive skin need between two and three hours of sunlight spread over a week to the face, arms or equivalent area of skin to help with winter vitamin D levels. You need to take a balanced approach to sun exposure as it can also increase risk of skin cancer. Vitamin D is found in oily fish, dairy products, eggs, butter, cod liver oil, oatmeal sweet potatoes however most people get only 5-10 percent of vitamin D from food.
Who is at risk of Vitamin D deficiency?
People with naturally very dark skin as the pigment in the skin acts as a filter and reduces the amount of vitamin D the body makes.
People with little or no sun exposure. This includes people in long term residential and aged care and hospital.
People such as taxi drivers night shift workers, or factory workers.
If you are worried about your vitamin D levels see your doctor. It is easy to get a simple blood test to tell if your levels are low. Your doctor may recommend supplements which should be taken strictly as directed.