Increase your Vitamin D intake this winter

by Karen Bowen

As winter drags on, you are probably looking forward to the longer days of spring. The short days and long nights of winter can impact your deliveries.

They can also impact your health, since sunlight is necessary for your body to create its own vital nutrient: Vitamin D. Low levels of Vitamin D can lead to a variety of conditions, as Vitamin D plays an important role in reducing inflammation, utilizing calcium to maintain strong bones and muscles, and maintaining your brain’s balance of two mood-regulating chemicals: serotonin and dopamine.

Some common conditions caused by a lack of Vitamin D include: rickets, bone pain, muscle weakness, depression, cognitive issues, frequent respiratory and urinary infections, prostate cancer, cardiovascular disease, tooth cavities, and/or sleep apnea. Ongoing Vitamin D deficiency may play a role in developing Type 2 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, high blood pressure, stroke, osteoporosis, psoriasis, and/or glucose intolerance. 

Unfortunately, unless you frequently drive long-haul to the warmer states, most winter driving in Canada prevents you from getting enough sun exposure to produce the amount of Vitamin D required for good health. Since the sky is often overcast with limited direct sunlight – and even on bright, sunny days, low temperatures make it necessary to layer clothing for warmth and protection – you don’t get the required 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight connecting with your face, back, and arms or legs three times a week.

For proper assimilation, this sunlight cannot be filtered through your windshield or sunscreen. So, it is important to include Vitamin D-rich foods in your diet over winter.
Good sources of Vitamin D are fatty fish (salmon, trout, tuna, halibut and mackerel), fish liver oils, beef liver, egg yolks, and Vitamin D-fortified foods, like milk, orange juice and grain products.

Your daily requirement is at least 600 IU; when you reach 70 years of age, this requirement increases to 800 IU.

As well, you may consider increasing the dosage if you have a pre-existing condition which impacts your body’s ability to absorb Vitamin D from foods, such as: celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis and obesity. If you follow a vegan diet, you are particularly susceptible to a Vitamin D deficiency.

When you recognize that you aren’t exposed to enough sunlight and your diet lacks Vitamin D, you may consider taking a Vitamin D supplement. Be sure to read the product labels and to stay within the recommended daily requirements. Taking too much Vitamin D orally has been associated with kidney stones, nausea, constipation and other health concerns.

Since Vitamin D can impact blood sugar levels, use caution if you have diabetes or low blood sugar, or if you take herbs or medication that affect blood sugar. Since supplements may also affect blood pressure, be careful if you take blood pressure medication or related herbal remedies.

As well, consult with your doctor before taking Vitamin D supplements if you have these conditions: a Vitamin D sensitivity/allergy, chronic headaches, immune disorders, heart disease, kidney disease, lung conditions, and/or musculoskeletal, skin, stomach or thyroid disorders. Vitamin D supplements may cause drug interactions, so if you have prescribed medication for a chronic condition, or if you take other supplements, confirm supplementation with your doctor or pharmacist and avoid if you have abnormal calcium excretion or calcium levels.

For skin conditions, Vitamin D cream may be applied topically to the skin alone or in combination with corticosteroids for up to three months, as prescribed. However, stop if you experience an allergic skin reaction, inflammation, rash, irritation and/or skin thinning,

Ensuring you get the appropriate amount of Vitamin D during the winter months can help you boost your strength and maintain a healthy attitude.

So, if packing a lunch, consider a salmon or tuna sandwich; when stopping for a meal, choose fish with fortified milk for a change; or, consider supplementing your diet with Vitamin D – until you find your summer place in the sun.


Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant, and she can be reached at

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