One billion people worldwide have a vitamin D deficiency, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. And if you’re experiencing some of these telltale signs, you could be one of them.
You’re feeling moody or depressed
Cooler temperatures can bring on gloomy moods. Whether you call it the winter blues, cabin fever, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), doctors often chalk up cold-weather mood dips to lack of sunshine. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that people with lower levels of vitamin D are 10 times more likely to be depressed than those who have a healthy dose of the so-called “sunshine vitamin.” “Basically, it comes down to levels of the hormone serotonin in your brain,” explains Wesley Delbridge, RN, spokesperson for the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics. “With exposure to bright light, like sunlight, serotonin will increase.” Translation? Catch a bit of sun, and your disposition could get sunnier, too. You can also take advantage of light therapy in the coldest, darkest months.
You’re gaining weight
Along with prompting skin to manufacture vitamin D, sunshine supplies the important nutrient nitric oxide, which keeps your metabolism running smoothly and discourages binge eating. A study published in the journal Diabetes found that exposure to UV rays can slow weight gain and ward off diabetes. Eating these foods will boost your vitamin D levels naturally.
You’re at risk for heart disease or cancer
Good news: Sunbathing is the new exercise. Okay, not really. There’s still the risk of skin cancer to worry about. But if you’re limiting your sun exposure—some researchers say we spend 90 percent of our lives indoors!—you could be more likely to develop breast and prostate cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease. Last year, the Harvard School of Public Health found that men with vitamin D deficiencies caused by lack of sunlight were twice as likely to develop a heart condition. Some doctors recommend spending about 15 minutes a day in the sun without sunscreen to give your body a chance to create its daily dose of vitamin D.
Your bones ache
What might be mistaken as arthritis or fibromyalgia (chronic muscle pain and fatigue) in adults could actually be a vitamin D deficiency due to a lack of sunlight, according to Delbridge. Adults who don’t get enough sunshine, especially in the winter when it’s too cold to spend time outside, often feel aches and pains in their muscles and bones, or they might feel a bit stiffer in the morning. Nutrients like calcium and collagen work together to build bones, but without a proper dose of vitamin D, the process is interrupted, and “your bones can actually ache and throb,” says Delbridge. Weak bones could also be a sign that you have a calcium deficiency.
You get sick often
Avoiding daylight could be making you sicker. A healthy dose of vitamin D gives your immune system a boost, which decreases your chance of developing infections and the flu. To knock out a pesky cold, try to spend about 10 to 15 minutes outside, recommends Michael Holick, MD, professor of medicine, physiology, and biophysics at Boston University Medical Center and author of The UV Advantage, on everydayhealth.com. Try these other ways to get vitamin D—even if it’s not summer.
You’re not sleeping well
A lack of sunlight could wreak havoc on your body long after the sun goes down. Research shows that spending an extended amount of time in artificial lighting or staring at electronic screens causes serious sleep problems. In fact, if you skimp on the sun’s rays by staying indoors, you can throw off your circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock), which could mean you’re not sleeping deeply enough, and may easily trigger insomnia.
You’re sweating excessively
Excessive sweating on your forehead, especially if you’re not exercising or overheated, is one of the classic signs that you’re not getting enough vitamin D. If your forehead has a little extra shine (even if your body temperature and activity level is normal), it might be time to ask your doctor about getting your blood checked for a vitamin D deficiency. Even moderately low levels of vitamin D may be linked to a surprising number of health conditions, including diabetes, osteoarthritis, and cancer.
You always use sunscreen
Think more SPF is always better? In reality, the sun’s rays have many benefits, as long as you get exposure in moderation, like Dr. Holick’s recommended 10 to 15 minutes daily. It doesn’t need to be hot or even sunny to reap the rewards of good old vitamin D. Even on a cloudy, chilly day, a small amount of exposure to UV rays can help you live longer and feel happier. “The point is, get out there and feel some light on your skin,”