Do you live above the 37th parallel? If so, your home likely has more days of gloom and clouds than sunshine and blue skies from October to April. You know vitamin D is essential and that sunshine is the best way to get it, but sunbathing naked in subzero temperatures just isn’t an option. What do you do when winter storms, frigid wind chill, and the threat of hypothermia stand between you and vitamin D?
Can you get vitamin D from the sun in winter?
Winter in the north isn’t an ideal time for many reasons. But is it impossible to get vitamin D from the sun?
If you live above the 37th latitude, the imaginary line that runs through the southern border of Nevada and the northern border of Tennessee, you are in the danger zone for wintertime vitamin D deficiency.
Remember, the sun never really gets any weaker or colder. It is a consistent heat and light source sending out thermal radiation to bring life to this planet. Because of the way the earth tilts on its axis as we revolve around the sun, certain parts of the world will experience weaker sunlight (less UVB rays) during the winter months.
Studies have shown that the further from the equator you live, the less vitamin D you will get from the sun. Meaning you will need to spend a longer period in the sunshine to achieve the same vitamin D levels. Some research even suggests that people who live in places like Boston or Alberta, CA synthesized no vitamin D from sun exposure in the winter — even on a sunny day!
Storing vitamin D
If you’re reading this in the dead of winter in a northern climate, don’t despair. Not all hope is lost. Unlike water-soluble vitamins, which leave your body rather quickly, vitamin D is fat-soluble, meaning it is stored in your liver and fat tissues, just waiting for that time when your UVB exposure falters.
So, your vitamin D levels won’t immediately drop after a few cloudy days or even a few weeks of no sunshine. Mother nature already accounted for that. Though the exact length of time your body stores vitamin D is hard to measure, it likely stays in your tissues for around two months. Mother nature also prepared for the weak winter sunshine by providing dietary vitamin D through rich, healthy food sources (more on that later).
Most experts agree that if you have good vitamin D levels going into the winter, you will be in a better place to keep them up through supplementation, diet, and whatever sun you can get.
The single best way to get more vitamin D is to get outside and greet the sun, skin bared to soak up life-giving rays. While this is easy in the summertime, as you tend to do more outdoor activities and wear less clothing due to warmer temperatures, it isn’t easy during the long, dark, cold winter.
However, in certain locations, it is possible — and essential. If you live somewhere with freezing temperatures, you will need to adjust your habits and make sun-seeking an active part of your day.
When the sun is at its warmest around 3 pm (this varies depending on your location), get outside! Yes, you may have to bundle up, yes, you will probably be slightly chilly, but even 15 minutes of sun on your face will do wonders for your health.
Remember, high SPF sunscreen can prevent your body from absorbing vitamin D. Avoid using sunscreen unless you plan to be in the sun for an extended period. If that’s the case, use an organic, low-SPF physical sunscreen containing zinc to keep your skin from burning.
If you think you can sit beside a sunny window or get enough sun through the windshield while driving to work, you are sadly mistaken. Glass blocks UVB radiation from the sun, which is what allows you to synthesize vitamin D.
How to get outside in the winter
Go for a walk
A walk in the winter will serve a dual purpose; it will allow you to soak up some rays and help you reach your daily movement goal. Put on a coat and gloves and take a 15 or 20-minute walk. Utilize your lunch break for walking if you work 9-5 and get home when the sun has already set.
Take up winter sports
Though skiing and snowboarding aren’t for everyone, you may find a new favorite winter hobby if you live near a ski resort. A day spent on the mountain will certainly fill your vitamin D quota. Snowshoeing or cross-country skiing are great options if you enjoy hiking but find your favorite trails covered in snow.
Play in the snow
Embrace your inner child. Build an igloo, a snowman, or go sledding. If you have kids or grandkids, get them involved in the action and make some incredible family memories.
Take a vacation
Plan a vacation to a sunny destination in the dead of winter. Getting away helps battle seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and provides an incredible dose of vitamin D. A vacation also gives you something to look forward to and renews your mind and body.
Visit a location like Hawaii, the Caribbean, the Bahamas, or even somewhere stateside like Arizona or Florida. You are likely long overdue for a vacation. Grab your bathing suit a good book, and leave your layers at home!
Note: Your body likely isn’t accustomed to the sun if you vacation in winter. Slowly increase your sun exposure to avoid burning.
Sun requirement isn’t one size fits all
Remember, the number of UVB rays you absorb will vary greatly depending on your skin tone. Those with fair skin should minimize their time in the sun to avoid burning and only need a few minutes of exposure to fill their sunshine quota. On the other hand, those with darker skin absorb fewer rays due to higher pigmentation and need a little more sun for maximum benefit.
Other ways to get more vitamin D in winter
Add vitamin D-rich foods to your diet
As mentioned above, the powerful benefits of sunshine cannot be overstated — getting outside should always be your first priority when increasing your vitamin D levels. Researchers estimate that just 20 percent of the daily recommended vitamin D comes from food consumption.
However, even the best intentions and the most dedicated sun-chasing aren’t always enough to give your body the vitamin D it needs in the winter.
Try adding these vitamin D-rich foods to your diet to help keep your levels up:
Note: Always buy organic!
- Grass-fed red meat
- Grass-fed liver
- Pasture-raised egg yolks
- Wild-caught salmon
- Cod liver oil
- Wild-caught tuna
- Wild-caught sardines
Fun Fact: Traditional Inuit people living in far northern climates didn’t get much sunlight. So why do they show low rates of inflammation and rickets in studies of historic skeletons? The short answer is…diet. They lived on diets rich in essential fat like fish and organ meat. They also adapted a light skin tone to absorb UVB rays quicker.
What about fortified foods?
In the 1930s, rickets wasn’t a historical disease; it was still a genuine and prevalent problem from lack of sun exposure. The United States responded by adding artificial vitamin D to various foods such as milk and cereal.
While the concept behind this fortification seems beneficial, “the general populace is deficient in vitamin D, so let’s add it to foods and drinks that everyone consumes,” the delivery method leaves something to be desired.
Milk, orange juice, soy milk, cereals, all foods commonly fortified with vitamin D, don’t have a place in the 100 Year Heart Diet. Milk is heavily processed and comes from cows burdened by antibiotics and artificial hormones. Orange juice is loaded with added sugar, contributing to weight gain and heart problems. Soy milk is generally from GMO soy associated with several health concerns, and grains contribute to inflammation and gut microbiome imbalances.
Avoid these fortified foods and stick to natural, animal sources of vitamin D, sunshine, and supplements.
You try to get out in the sun every day, and you eat an organic diet full of natural sources of vitamin D, yet your levels are still low. What else can you do to get this critical vitamin?
Try the Sperti Vitamin D Lamp or the Sperti Fiji Sun Tanning Lamp. These incredible products are FDA approved and have been shown in peer-reviewed studies to improve vitamin D levels after just four weeks of use by exposing the body to UVB rays. These rays that come from the sun are essential for your body to make vitamin D.
If you choose to use either of the Sperti lamps, follow the instructions and start slow, gradually building up to the recommended time. Check your vitamin D levels before you begin using the lamp, and again after four weeks — you should notice an incredible difference. Both products come with a 100 percent money-back guarantee within the first 60 days.
These lights are an investment, but they are an investment into your health and well-being and are well worth it if you struggle with vitamin D deficiency or live in a northern climate. Many insurances cover some or all of the cost, so be sure to look into that before purchasing it out of pocket.
What about tanning beds?
Sun lamps deliver just enough UVB radiation to help support vitamin D levels. On the other hand, tanning beds deliver concentrated doses of UVA and UVB rays directly to unprotected skin for tanning. They have been linked to skin cancer, DNA damage, and premature aging.
Plus, many tanning salons are loaded with chemicals that can increase your toxic burden and harm your health. Avoid tanning beds if you are looking to boost your vitamin D safely.
Supplements shouldn’t replace sunshine; however, they can help back up the weak winter sun. Before starting any vitamin D supplements, talk with your doctor about running a blood test to determine your vitamin D levels.
This will help give you an idea of how much vitamin D you should supplement with, as the dosage is highly dependent on individual cases, and it is possible to take too much.
Supplements are not regulated, and it can be hard to find companies that produce quality supplements without any added ingredients. Try our vitamin D3 supplement, Super D, for a reputable source of this critical vitamin. Be sure to take this supplement with a meal or a fat source for best absorption.
Remember, supplementation should always be preceded by testing. Many people take supplements heedlessly, without understanding their vitamin D levels. This is not a one-size-fits-all situation, and varying dosage guidelines can be incredibly confusing. Get tested before you start supplementation and as often as recommended by your doctor to help keep your levels regulated.
How much do you need?
Vitamin D is measured in international units (IU). The exact amount needed to support heart function, bone health, the gut, and the immune system is highly debated. However, most experts agree that the average adult shouldn’t take more than 2,000-4,000 IU per day from supplement sources.
Remember, your body will never naturally produce too much vitamin D from sunlight. It will take in exactly what it needs. It is unlikely to reach maximum vitamin D levels from food as most food sources contain modest amounts.
But when you don’t get much (or any) vitamin D from the sun in the wintertime, paying attention to your levels and supplementing appropriately is essential.
Most people don’t want to or can’t move to a sunnier, warmer climate. If you can, though, what are you waiting for? Long winters with weak sunlight and freezing temperatures don’t favor the body. Perhaps it’s time for a change.
If you can’t commit to a full move, consider becoming a snowbird to take advantage of the best of two climates. This may require moving to a smaller house or condo and pursuing a remote job. Moving may seem like an extreme option, but it could be beneficial for your health and could even save your life.
Healthy vitamin D levels aren’t hard to achieve in the summertime. But if you live in a cold climate during the winter, prioritize the pursuit of sunshine and vitamin D. You’ll feel better, be happier, and will be well on your way to your 100 Year Heart. Consider vitamin D supplementation if your levels are low!
Eat Well · Live Well · Think Well
Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD