As the days get shorter, we tend to spend more time indoors. Festive though they are, candles, holiday lights, and fireplaces can’t make up for the sunlight we lack this time of year. And the sun’s cheerful light and warmth aren’t the only things we miss through the winter: our bodies need sunlight to help produce vitamin D.
A much anticipated new study on guidelines for vitamin D and calcium consumption raised recommended intake levels for both nutrients in regard to bone health but advised more research on other potential benefits, such as heart health and depression prevention.
Calcium and phosphorus are critical minerals that form the basic building block of bones and teeth, giving them both strength and density. Calcium is also critical to nerve and muscle function, blood clotting, enzyme and hormone regulation, and cell membrane function. When we don’t consume adequate amounts of calcium through food or supplements, our bodies take what is needed from our bones, which over time can lead to osteoporosis.
Gardening offers a refuge from the stresses of modern living, be it tending a backyard orchard, plants in a window box, or a collection of potted herbs in the kitchen. Many of us have sedentary work indoors, and the stress of just getting to work and coping with deadlines can numb both our bodies and spirits.
Vitamin D has been getting a lot of attention lately for several reasons. It appears that vitamin D deficiency may affect many more people than previously thought who reside at mid-northern latitudes, including most of the United States. This is true even at the current recommended daily intake of 400 International Units (IU). The National Institutes of Health will likely recommend an increase to 800 – 1000 IU per day in May 2010, when they release their review of the vitamin D guidelines.
Although we do not hibernate the same way as bears and chipmunks, we humans do respond physically to the winter season. Both colder temperatures and decreased natural light trigger responses in us we may or may not be aware of. Modern life often requires us to act against these natural changes, leaving us more vulnerable to disease and unhealthy tendencies.