I’m Definitely Getting Less Vitamin D Since I’ve Been Cooped Up Indoors—But What Does That Actually Mean?

If I'm telling the truth, I've been outside my apartment maybe three times this week—and that's a generous estimate.

Since I started strictly working from home, I've accepted the fact that the inside of my not-so-spacious New York apartment is where you'll find me for the foreseeable future—which also means my former Florida gal days of soaking up ample vitamin D are far, far behind me.

But it turns out I'm not the only one lacking in vitamin D, and it's not just a WFH-specific problem either. According to Michael A. Smith, MD, director of education at Life Extension®, many people in the U.S. have insufficient vitamin D levels (more on the difference between deficient and insufficient below), and they have for some time.

"These insufficiencies are nothing new to 2020," Dr. Smith says. "It’s more the product of an issue that we’re starting to recognize now."

In fact, a recent study showed that up to 30 percent of aging adults are actually vitamin D deficient, and sunlight alone is not likely enough to increase their vitamin blood levels to any significant degree, says Dr. Smith.

"These insufficiencies are nothing new to 2020."

Lacking vitamin D isn't the only way I recognized spending more time at home might be affecting my health. Given the heightened stress of 2020 in general, I haven't been totally feeling like myself. So, I decided to chat with Dr. Smith about what I can do about it.

"Stress can zap your body of all vitamins and minerals," Dr. Smith says. "Stress is an activator of your system. It turns on your drive for fight or flight." And, since there's a vitamin D receptor in every type of cell in the human body, he explains, it's connected to many of those systems.

According to Dr. Smith, the easiest first step to get my well-being on track is supplementing, so after chatting with him, I picked up Life Extension Vitamin D3 to try for myself. "Supplementation can bring you into optimal range quicker, and sustain you there over time," Dr. Smith adds. Sign. Me. Up.

Keep scrolling to learn more about what it means to be lacking vitamin D, as well as the tips this MD had for me.

Insufficiency vs. deficiency

Although some studies suggest as much as 42 percent of the U.S. population is deficient in vitamin D, Dr. Smith says examining vitamin D insufficiency is more useful for correcting the problem.

"There are two words: deficiency and insufficiency, which are the two official medical words for 'low levels,'" Dr. Smith says. "Most people don’t meet the medical definition of deficiency, instead, there is a widespread insufficiency—so we're really just talking about people who are suboptimal." And suboptimal isn't your goal here.

My biggest question was: How can you tell when you're actually insufficient? According to Dr. Smith, the signs are different for different people, but they tend to show up during cold and flu season and can include cold symptoms, fatigue, and mood changes, among other things. "People tend to be lower in mood in fall and winter months, but it might be even a little worse for someone who is insufficient," Dr. Smith says.

I didn't feel like I could pin-point my exact vitamin D insufficiency signals (my mood goes up and down all the time), but that doesn't mean there might not be consequences later on, according Dr. Smith. "It’s important to understand that vitamin D is such a key nutrient for so many body processes," he says. "You need sufficient levels of it to support heart, immune, and bone health." Here's to taking measures now that my 50-year-old self will thank me for.

What you can do

Now that I know the importance of vitamin D for both my immediate and long-term health, I recognized I needed to make a few changes. Off the bat, Dr. Smith suggested trying to reduce the stress in my life. "Stress is a zapper of energy and micronutrients," he says. "For people who deal with it, it’s not uncommon to truly be [vitamin D] insufficient because their body is just on all the time."

Some of the best ways to reduce stress, according to Dr. Smith, are going outside and exercising—two things that on their own also help to increase your vitamin D levels (and two things I could definitely do more of).

Another way to target stress is to use supplements to promote better relaxation. In addition to vitamin D (which can also help maintain healthy blood pressure), Dr. Smith suggested I take a multivitamin (for overall health), melatonin (to ensure I'm getting high-quality zzz's), and Life Extension Enhanced Stress Relief, which helps to raise more relaxation hormones and battles that "always-on" feeling, Dr. Smith says.

Coming out of my chat with Dr. Smith, I have two main goals: Sticking to an easy-but-effective supplement routine (already on it), and spending at least 30 minutes a day outside. A walk around my city block might not be the same as a sunny stroll down the beach, but I'm about to be well on my way to Florida-levels of vitamin D.

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Photo: Getty Images/Ivan Pantic

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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