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This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.
With shorter days, less sun and flu season back again, it’s time to start preparing our bodies for the colder days ahead.
One of the ways we can give our immune systems a boost this time of year is through vitamins and supplements.
What vitamins should you take during the winter?
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Vitamin D help us absorb calcium and is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” since our bodies produce the vitamin when we’re exposed to the sun. However, with less sunshine and more time spent indoors, our bodies may become deficient during this time of year.
“Vitamin D is likely the trickiest one to meet through food because the sources are much more limited; this is the most common nutrient that I see needing to be supplemented year-round,” said Ginger Hultin, a Seattle-based registered dietitian nutritionist at Champagne Nutrition, in an interview with Yahoo Canada.
Health Canada recommends that people over 50 take a daily vitamin D supplement of 400 International Units (400) or 10 micrograms.
Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant and also helps our body absorb iron and heal wounds. The recommended daily intake of vitamin C is dependent on your age. however great sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, cabbage and broccoli.
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, people who take vitamin C supplements on a regular basis may experience a shorter cold or milder symptoms when they have a cold.
“The bone builders like vitamin D and magnesium as well as those that support the natural immune system like vitamin C and zinc are all important year-round,” Hultin explained. “Making sure you’re not deficient in any of these nutrients is the most important thing so that your body has what it needs to fight off viruses and infections.”
Dr. David Jenkins, a professor in the Department of Nutritional Services in the Temerity Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, recommends maintaining a routine with the supplement.
“As long as you don’t take it in vast quantities for long periods of time, it seems to be fairly innocuous,” Jenkins told Yahoo Canada. “You do become dependent on the vitamin C that you’re taking so you don’t want to go cold turkey.”
Zinc is a nutrient that helps the function of your metabolism and immune system. According to Jenkins, there’s evidence that zinc can prevent the “severe reoccurrence of colds” and can even “shorten the time of infection of a cold.”
Adult women need about 8 mg of zinc a day while adult men require 11 mg, according to the NIH. If you’re not looking to add a zinc supplement to your routine, it can also be easily added to your diet through a variety of foods.
“You can easily meet your zinc needs through seafood, dairy, eggs and meat, nuts and seeds and beans,” Hultin advised.
Magnesium supports our muscles, nerve function and energy production, which is especially important during the colder season. Less daylight and feeling a lack of energy is common during the winter and can often lead to people experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Avocados, nuts, seeds, legumes and bananas are all great sources of magnesium. However, if you don’t get an adequate supply of magnesium through your diet, a supplement could help boost your energy levels.
Which supplements are right for you?
Although supplements may be a good alternative for those of us who need a boost during the winter, it is possible to overdo it. For example, too much vitamin C could lead to a risk of developing kidney stones, while too much vitamin D can lead to hypercalcemia, leading to nausea and constipation.
Talking to your doctor before you add any kind of supplement to your diet is important to ensure you’re getting the right vitamins and nutrients you actually need.
“Supplementing needs to be based on each individual and often on blood testing,” Hultin noted. “Supplementing with too high of a dose of many vitamins and minerals can be dangerous so be sure that you’re speaking with your doctor and registered dietitian for safety.”