Movies like Contagion or TV series such as Black Mirror helped us visualise what a dystopian world looks like. Little did we know that soon, everything we binge-watched inside the comfort (and darkness) of our rooms, would our reality. But 2020 proved us wrong, with our homes, streets, offices, and gyms beginning to slowly resemble scenes from a post-apocalyptic world.
Locked inside our homes, with news of the lockdown extending, we continued to be caged, stripped off from nature, especially the sun, which the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health has called, “the brightest spot for human health”. And increasingly, we found ourselves complaining of fatigue, tiredness, body aches, and sleepless nights.
True that a number of factors could play a role here. Of them, vitamin D deficiency tops the list, explains RD Disha Jhaveri Shah, a nutritionist and founder of Nutrient Insights. Before the lockdown, things were simple. A solid 15 to 30 minutes outdoors with the summer sun shining strongly on us, and our bodies would make all the vitamin D it needed. Now, things are different.
The Body and The Sunshine Vitamin
While with most other vitamins, which are required in small amounts in the body, the main source is our diet, in the case of vitamin D, it is the sun. Through a complex process, our bodies convert sunlight into vitamin D, which promotes the absorption of calcium and phosphorous that are integral for our mental and physical well being.
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Considering it helps our bodies absorb nutrients, nourishes our hair and skin, builds stronger bones, teeth and boosts our immunity, which is of topmost priority during this pandemic. In fact, research led by Northwestern University, released in 2020, discovered a strong correlation between severe vitamin D deficiency and COVID-19 mortality rates. The study noted that patients from countries with high COVID-19 mortality rates, such as China, Italy, Spain and the UK, had lower levels of Vitamin D when compared to patients in countries that had lower mortality rates.
Additionally, Vitamin D helps create serotonin, a hormone that plays a crucial role in helping us feel good and keep stress and anxiety at bay, ensuring good mental health. Dr Nahid Dave, a consultant psychiatrist, who practices at Thought Matters, Insight Clinic, adds that vitamin D also helps regulate sleep cycles because it has a bearing on the body’s melatonin circadian rhythm aka our biological body clock. This adjudges how much sleep we get and its quality, too.
How to load up on Vitamin D when you’re indoors
Unlike other vitamins, this sunshine vitamin is absent from natural foods, barring a few exceptions. Even so, our bodies need to first transform it, before it can do us any good, explains Lovneet Batra, a Delhi-based nutritionist.
Both Shah and Batra agree that with #StayAtHome, we cannot rely on our bodies alone to produce vitamin D. If you’ve always spent most of your time indoors avoiding the sun to protect yourself from getting tanned, ageing skin or living life generally dodging the seemingly harmful effects of UV rays, it’s time to reconsider, before you find yourself bang in the middle of a severe vitamin D deficiency.
To that end, the easiest fix is to add artificially fortified foods and in some extreme cases, supplements, to meet the body’s vitamin D requirements. Apart from that, loading up on foods that are naturally rich in the vitamin may also help.
Eat your vitamin D
1. Fatty fish and egg yolks are rich in vitamin D. Shah advises that the next time you go grocery shopping, stock up on fish like trout, smoked salmon, swordfish, mackerel, and tuna, along with eggs.
2. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, look for fortified foods, and remember to read the label. Think multi grain-cereals, orange juice, yoghurt, buttermilk, butter, cheese, goat milk, almond milk, and soy products, such as soymilk and tofu.
3. Besides, Batra suggests adding magnesium-rich foods such as nuts, lentils and banana to your daily diet, since they help in vitamin D3 activation.
What about supplements?
Both vitamin D2 and D3 are available over the counter and you do not need a prescription to avail of them. “However, taking excessive doses could do you harm. Like other fat-soluble vitamins, bodies store vitamin D, helping them mobilise their own reserves when it doesn’t meet its requirements. This means that you don't need more than a 600 to 800 IU supplement per day,” Shah explains. If not, you could also take a 6,000 IU supplement once a month. But before you opt for this option, please consult a doctor to confirm the dosage.
Make vitamin D when the sun shines
Shah suggests certain guidelines to help you get the right sun exposure even during a lockdown:
- Open your windows to let the sun into your home.
- The best time for your body to make vitamin D is an hour after sunrise and the house before sunset. Time your grocery run around this. If not, walk or exercise in your balcony or terrace for at least 15-30 minutes.
- Always protect your skin by applying a sunscreen containing SPF 15 or more.