Vitamin D and Why You May Need it this Winter

A vitamin is an organic compound that’s vital to the survival of a living creature. An organic compound is virtually any chemical compound that contains carbon. But we won’t don’t need to delve into the organic chemistry to understand why it’s important.

The word vitamin comes from the Latin vita (life) and amine. Vitamins were originally thought to contain an amino acid. We know differently, now.

The term vitamin was widely used by the time it was discovered that vitamin C, among others, had no amine component. But the Latin heritage of this word is very telling. We need vitamins to live!

These organic compounds are essential in small quantities for human growth, metabolism, development, body function, and well-being. They are found in small amounts in plant and animal foods and are sometimes produced synthetically.

Vitamin D is naturally present in very few foods. It is added to some common products (like milk). It is also produced by our own bodies when ultraviolet rays from the sun hit the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis.

Natural Sources

So, when the sun stops shining in the winter and our world can go for days with snow and overcast conditions, what do we do? Fatty fish, like salmon and tuna, are a great source of Vitamin D. Smaller amounts of vitamin D are found in beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. You can also keep an eye out for fortified products where vitamin D has been added, such as milk, some breakfast cereals, certain brands of orange juice, yogurt, and margarine.

Get Outdoors

Even when there is complete cloud cover, ultraviolet energy exposure is only reduced by 50%. That means that getting outside during daylight hours in the winter can still help.

Some research has suggested that 5-30 minutes of sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. at least twice a week to the face, arms, legs, or back without sunscreen is enough to trigger Vitamin D synthesis. But much more than this and you may run into the risk of overexposure, which can have harmful effects on the skin.

For us northern folks, five to thirty minutes of sun exposure to the face, twice a week, should be enough to trigger vitamin D synthesis in the body during the winter months. Because of a 50% reduction in UV exposure in overcast conditions, you may need ten to sixty minutes during completely overcast days, following the research.

Dietary Supplements

Dietary supplements can come in form of Vitamin D2 and D3. The two forms are traditionally regarded as being the same, as both can cure rickets, which is caused by a vitamin D deficiency.

In adults, a vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteomalacia, which can result in weakened bone structures. If you are experiencing bone pain and muscle weakness, this could indicate inadequate vitamin D levels.

Always remember to talk with your primary care provider about nutrition and diet before starting a new plan or taking new supplements.


If you need to find a primary care provider, use our Find a Doctor tool here or call UP Health System – Marquette at any time at 844.411.UPHS to find a doctor in Marquette, Harvey, Escanaba, Sault Ste. Marie, and across the Upper Peninsula.

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