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As cold weather approaches and we pull out thick sweaters and warm blankets, it is important to take steps to keep Vitamin D levels optimum until beach season returns.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that interacts with and regulates more than 200 genes in the body. Vitamin D helps strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis. It can help prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, infections, some types of cancer, and multiple sclerosis, according to Cleveland Clinic. The primary source of Vitamin D is exposure to sunlight — in fact, only 15 minutes of direct sunshine several times a week is all you need to stay healthy. For many of us who work long hours, winter finds us heading to work as the sun rises, and driving home in the dark. Finding time to get outside during daylight hours can be a challenge. Chilly temperatures make most of us want to hibernate during cold weather.

Any Lab Test Now offers a fast and convenient test to determine if your Vitamin D levels are in the healthy range. When your body absorbs Vitamin D, the liver changes it to a substance called 25(OH)D, which your body uses to manage calcium, according to a report from the Vitamin D Council, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the importance of the vitamin.

Walk into any of the more than 170 storefront Any Lab Test Now locations this winter to get tested —without a trip to the doctor’s office. Tests results are provided within 24–72 hours. Any Lab Test Now partners with many major, high-quality laboratories throughout the U.S. to provide affordable and comprehensive lab testing services directly. Each location is independently owned and operated.

Signs of Vitamin D Deficiency

For most people, the symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency are difficult to identify. Some people may suffer from bone pain or muscle weakness, according to WebMD. Other symptoms may include depression, hair loss, and fatigue. Children lacking Vitamin D may suffer from rickets, a rare disease that weakens and softens the bones, Mayo Clinic reports.

Other Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency

Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, but lack of time outdoors is not the only reason for a Vitamin D deficiency. Many diseases can inhibit Vitamin D absorption. Some kidney and liver diseases reduce the amount of an enzyme needed to change Vitamin D to a form that is used in the body. Some diseases, like cystic fibrosis and Crohn’s Disease, prevent the absorption of Vitamin D in the intestine. Weight loss surgeries and obesity can also cause Vitamin D deficiencies because fat cells isolate Vitamin D and prevent the body from absorbing it, according to Cleveland Clinic.

Vitamin D levels can also be lowered by certain medications, such as steroids, laxatives, and drugs administered to lower cholesterol.

Even patients who get plenty of exposure sunlight can still lack Vitamin D. Absorption can be hampered by age, air pollution, altitude, skin color, and sunscreen, the Vitamin D Council reports.

Alternative Sources of Vitamin D

The National Institutes of Health recommends that the average American adult gets 600 IU of Vitamin D each day.

Food

One of the best sources for Vitamin D, besides sunlight, is food. Certain foods are high in Vitamin D and can help counteract winter hibernation. Foods high in Vitamin D include:

  • Fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon
  • Foods fortified with Vitamin D, like some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals
  • Beef liver
  • Cheese
  • Egg yolks

Take a Supplement

Cod liver oil, Vitamin D pills or liquid Vitamin D taken sublingually may be a good option when sun exposure is limited.

UV Lights

Doctors recommend some people at high risk for Vitamin D deficiency use special UV lights, similar to tanning beds, to get their necessary dose of sunshine.

Take a Walk

Sure, wintertime is cold, and getting outside can take a pep talk. But, the benefits of putting on your puffy coat and taking a quick stroll to get some sun make it worth the effort. The optimal time for Vitamin D absorption is at midday when the sun is strongest. Reward yourself with a hot chocolate after taking a walk on your lunch break.

Stave off the winter blues by making sure your Vitamin D level is in the healthy range. Visit your local Any Lab Test Now to keep your posture straight and your bones strong.