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By mid-February, Chicagoans are dreaming of the sunshine. We reminisce about summer days running outside along Lake Shore Drive or along the Chicago River path. While in the depths of winter we are reminded never to take the sunshine for granted. Chicago winters bring out an emotional connection to the weather and we wonder what we can do to mitigate the depressive effects of a sunless sky. Vitamin D is that magic substance that we hear about that has the ability to cure seasonal depression. Perhaps that isn’t the most accurate reflection of the power of Vitamin D, but this micronutrient is one of the most important hormone-like molecules which exists in nature and in the human body.

Vitamin D was discovered as a cure for Rickets, an old nutritional deficiency that causes children’s bones to bow at the legs and spines to curve in adults. Supplementation with Vitamin D, or any vitamin, is useful in cases of nutritional deficiencies. Otherwise, how do we get enough Vitamin D to benefit? Simply, from the sun.

When sunlight (UVB rays) hits our skin, a chemical derived from cholesterol is converted to pre-vitamin D which is transported to the liver and kidney and converted into the active form of Vitamin D, known chemically as calcitriol.  Vitamin D is nearly absent in foods, with the exception of fatty fish such as salmon as well as irradiated mushrooms in low doses.

Vitamin D has powerful effects with a wide-ranging scope of positive implications. Vitamin D status has been associated with decreased risk of cause-specific mortality, certain cancers, and reduction of oxidative stress. In a meta-analysis of clinical trials, Vitamin D is associated with reduced risk of cancer death by 16% (Zhang et al., 2019). Circulating Vitamin D significantly reduces overall mortality in older adults (Sepidarkish et al., 2019). This beneficial effect on cancer risk and all-cause mortality is in large part due to Vitamin D’s essential role in regulating cellular proliferation, helping to mitigate the effects of uncontrollable cancer cells. Furthermore, Vitamin D is an essential molecule that regulates calcium in the bone, kidney’s, and intestine.

As it pertains to fitness, Vitamin D also increases antioxidant capacity in the blood by upregulating glutathione, a very important antioxidant found naturally in the body. Antioxidants help repair damaged tissue and protects our cell membranes and DNA from the effects of exercise induced stress and general effects aging (Chowdhury et al., 2014).

My recommendation is to receive adequate vitamin D naturally from the sun by spending at least 15 – 30 minutes per day outside. Even when its cloudy, UVB rays make their way to your skin and produce vitamin D. Yet, the rub remains, Chicago winters are brutally gray allowing for very little skin exposure. That’s why in the winter months I recommend supplementing with at least 600 IU of vitamin D. Here are some great options from Thorne or combined with Omega-3s from Nordic Naturals. It’s important to remember, vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it’s best to consume with fats from foods such as avocado or almond butter.

– Alex Stoller, MagMile CrossFit Nutrition Coach

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Zhang Y, Fang F, Tang J, Jia L, Feng Y, Xu P, Faramand A. Association between vitamin D supplementation and mortality: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2019 Aug 12;366:l4673. doi: 10.1136/bmj.l4673. PubMed PMID: 31405892; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6689821.

Chowdhury R, Kunutsor S, Vitezova A, Oliver-Williams C, Chowdhury S, Kiefte-de-Jong JC, Khan H, Baena CP, Prabhakaran D, Hoshen MB, Feldman BS, Pan A, Johnson L, Crowe F, Hu FB, Franco OH. Vitamin D and risk of cause specific death: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational cohort and randomised intervention studies. BMJ. 2014 Apr 1;348:g1903. doi: 10.1136/bmj.g1903. Review. PubMed PMID: 24690623; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3972416.

Sepidarkish M, Farsi F, Akbari-Fakhrabadi M, Namazi N, Almasi-Hashiani A, Maleki Hagiagha A, Heshmati J. The effect of vitamin D supplementation on oxidative stress parameters: A systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials. Pharmacol Res. 2019 Jan;139:141-152. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2018.11.011. Epub 2018 Nov 15. PubMed PMID: 30447293.