Why your body may be longing to soak up the sun more deeply than you understand
Vitamin D, much harder to get in the winter, plays an important role in:
Bulletproofing your immune system
Warding off seasonal depression
And stopping diseases before they have a chance to start
It’s a standard winter hallmark of life in Chicago – the short and grey days, the long nights and an intense lake-effect chill that can make even the bravest of souls long for the golden sunshine of summer festivals past.
Each winter, we revisit our needs to “bear down” as the lack of sunlight leaves us with deepening Vitamin D deficits. As a result, fatigue and moodiness can make surviving the cold months seem like a never ending endurance trial.
In the sense that we rarely appreciate what we have until it’s gone, experiencing the benefits of Vitamin D during the one season your body cries out for it the most could be a blessing in disguise.
According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are over a dozen preventative and therapeutic benefits to both mental and physical well-being that stem from a consistently ample Vitamin D intake. Whether from dietary sources and supplements or its purest form – natural sunlight, your body and mind will reward you for prioritizing steady doses of Vitamin D.
Later in life, you will be better equipped with sharper cognition. In the interim, you’ll be able to combat seasonal depression while your body simultaneously starves off numerous diseases. An even more immediate (and overlooked) benefit of Vitamin D rests in it’s ability to ward off illness.
If you find yourself amid the heart of winter in the Windy City, read on to explore the benefits of Vitamin D that your body might be missing:
D Is For “Defeating Deadly Disease”
Research has unmasked Vitamin D as a quietly unsung-yet-beneficial combatant against a number of major afflictions. For starters, the Journal of the American Medical Association has acknowledged as recently as 2006 that daily Vitamin D exposure can reduce the risk of onset multiple sclerosis.
More recent studies have solidified the connection between Vitamin D and MS. In 2013, findings from Queen Mary, University of London and University of Oxford show that English babies with May birthdays tend to exhibit not only lower Vitamin D levels but elevated levels of autoreactive T-cells, a key body in activating MS. Additionally, Oregon Health and Science University Multiple Sclerosis and Neuroimmunology Center director Dennis Bourdette has observed that MS becomes considerably less frequent the nearer one gets to the tropics – a region with significantly more sunlight – universally acknowledged as the most vital Vitamin D source – than locales at northern or southern extremes.
The fascinating benefits just begin there, though. A Harvard Medical School study of 616 children in Costa Rica concluded that asthma, while incurable, can be controlled with fewer severe symptoms, less frequent attacks and fewer hospitalizations through increased Vitamin D supplementation. A 2004 University of Alabama study found that subjects who maintained high Vitamin D levels developed rheumatoid arthritis 30% less frequently than those with the lowest levels. Multiple Cancer Treatment Centers of America studies have found that adults with high Vitamin D levels develop cancer significantly less frequently than those who supplement it less or maintain overall lower levels year-round.
It’s also been shown by the New York Department of Health to prevent lower-level radiation damage, cited by Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) as a beneficial aid in tuberculosis recovery, and regularly noted as a key tool in reducing heart attack risk.
Peace Of Mind
Any longtime Midwest denizen is likely familiar with a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – if not by name, then entirely possibly through unwitting experience.
WebMD explains SAD as the end sum of an imbalance created by winter’s shift in daylight hours. As darkness falls, the human body instinctively ramps up its production of melatonin, the hormone that causes sleep. The longer the period of darkness, the more melatonin the body generates.
Consequently, more darkness means less daylight, which means less time when your body is responding to bright light by producing increased volumes of serotonin, the hormone that generates alertness and a brighter disposition, in response to decreasing melatonin levels. Ultimately, those who reside in colder climates and find themselves shut in by frigid weather during a large section of the year experience an onset of depression that can begin as early as late fall and last until the spring thaw.
Dr. Timo Partonen and his University of Helsinki research colleagues posed an interesting possibility: longer sun exposure during the summer, when the days are longest, may help the body maintain higher serotonin levels when sunlight is most scarce due both to shorter daylight hours and more frequent cloudy, cold weather. The Vitamin D produced naturally in the body when light stimulates cholecalciferol production maintains higher serotonin levels during the winter, long after cholecalciferol levels peak during the autumn months.
Think of it as your body storing up this Vitamin D-generating catalyst to last through the winter the way some mammals gorge themselves to prepare themselves for hibernation.
As fascinating as Vitamin D’s benefits to preventative health care against chronic diseases and depression are, the lesser-realized benefits can be equally as intriguing.
For example, amid America’s epidemic of childhood obesity, a Medical College of Georgia study has linked deficient Vitamin D levels with higher body-fat percentages and resulting higher risks for diabetes, stroke, hypertension, and heart disease. Among over 650 teens between ages 14 and 19 years old, those with the highest Vitamin D levels had lower levels of abdominal fat and overall body fat, while the correlation was the reverse for the subjects with the lowest levels.
Meanwhile, Vitamin D is also a significant immune system booster. In a study conducted from 2008 to 2009, Vitamin D supplementation reduced incidences of seasonal influenza A among a randomly selected double-blind sample of schoolchildren. Elsewhere, a separate University of Colorado Denver study suggested that regular supplementation may even effectively prevent the common cold.
If your Vitamin D regimen hasn’t yet topped your winter-health priorities, perhaps it’s time that changed. A marked reduction in available sunlight need not derail your body’s balance – in fact, there are a variety of dietary and supplementary sources available to keep your levels high year-round.
The first step is assessment. Are you at risk for Vitamin D deficiency? Factors that increase your risk include age (50 and up), dark skin, a northern home, overweight/obesity/gastric bypass surgery, milk allergy or lactose intolerance, and liver or digestive diseases such as Crohn’s or Celiac. Not sure? Feel free to contact Aligned Modern Health today. Our Functional Nutrition services provide full assessment and testing to determine your Vitamin D Level – including blood work and the 25-hydroxyvitamin D test.
When the sunshine is hiding, you can always stop into one of our 5 neighborhood locations for suggestions on recommended products to bulletproof your body until the Cubs and White Sox open their seasons this April!