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Navigating winter: understanding vitamin deficiencies in the new year

Magdalena Marvell, our resident nutritionist, reveals the significant factors to consider this winter.
 
The New Year brings with it a sense of renewal and resolutions, but it’s essential to be mindful of lifestyle choices that may affect our nutritional well-being during this season. Two significant factors to consider are the tendency for celebratory indulgence and reduced exposure to sunlight.
 
New Year Celebrations and Vitamin B12 Deficiency: During the holidays, social gatherings and New Year celebrations often involve alcohol consumption. Alcohol can hinder the absorption of vital nutrients, including vitamin B12. Studies show that even moderate alcohol intake can decrease B12 absorption by about 5-6%1. Additionally, excessive alcohol consumption, a common occurrence during the celebratory moments, can lead to indigestion and heartburn, further complicating B12 absorption.
 
B12 needs stomach acid to be bio-available in the rest of the body, and issues with indigestion and heartburn can be linked to B12 deficiency. Notably, H-pylori infection, causing excess stomach acid and ulcers, is a common cause of B12 deficiency.
 
Furthermore, a more prevalent cause in older individuals is a lack of stomach acid, as it is needed to absorb vitamin B12 from food. Approximately 10-30% of adults over the age of 50 may experience difficulty absorbing vitamin B12 directly from food2.
 
Sunlight, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and Vitamin D: Mood changes synchronised to the seasons, including heightened anxiety and depression during winter, are common. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), an extreme form of seasonality, manifests with symptoms like carbohydrate craving, hypersomnia, lethargy, and changes in circadian rhythms. It has been suggested that seasonality and SAD symptoms may be linked to changing levels of vitamin D3, the hormone of sunlight, affecting brain serotonin3. In winter, reduced sunlight exposure leads to decreased vitamin D production in the body. Apart from consuming high vitamin D foods, adults are advised to take additional vitamin D from supplements or foods to achieve at least 600 IU per day.
 
Dark-skinned individuals or those avoiding sunshine should consider increased vitamin D intake year-round.
 
Vitamin D also plays a crucial role in maintaining gastrointestinal health. Higher vitamin D levels reduce susceptibility to inflammatory bowel diseases and gut and lung infections. Research indicates that vitamin D fosters gut microbial health by increasing the number and diversity of microbes, collectively reducing inflammation throughout the body4.
 
Balancing Vitamin D Intake: While vitamin D is crucial, excessive intake can lead to toxicity. Dermatologists recommend avoiding unprotected sun exposure due to the risk of skin cancer, emphasising the use of supplements. The recommended daily intake for adults is no more than 
 
4,000 IU per day to prevent toxic side effects. It’s essential to strike a balance, as excessive levels of vitamin D can elevate blood calcium and potentially lead to kidney disease5.
 
As the New Year unfolds, shedding light on the role of essential nutrients, including vitamin C, becomes crucial for maintaining overall health, especially during times of increased stress, illness, and excessive drinking. 
 
Understanding Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient, meaning our bodies cannot produce it, and we must obtain it through our diet. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, we can’t store vitamin C, necessitating a daily intake. Its importance becomes even more pronounced during periods of illness, stress, and excessive drinking6, making it a key nutrient to focus on, especially in the New Year.
 
The Role of Vitamin C: Beyond its role in immune function, vitamin C contributes to energy metabolism, helping combat winter blues and fatigue. As a powerful antioxidant, it protects cells from oxidative damage, particularly crucial during periods of stress and illness. Vitamin C also aids in iron absorption from plant-based sources, enhancing its utilisation in the body7.
 
Avoiding Vitamin C Deficiency in the New Year: Maintaining an adequate intake of vitamin C is imperative, especially when faced with challenges like excessive drinking during celebratory moments and an increased likelihood of processed food consumption. A poor diet, high in processed foods, can reduce vitamin C intake, leading to a weakened immune system, impaired wound healing, and poor iron absorption. To ensure your daily dose of vitamin C during winter:
 
• Include potatoes, a versatile and nutritious option providing 10% of your daily value of vitamin C in six potatoes.
• Emphasise seasonal fruits like oranges, clementines, grapefruits, and pomegranates as festive staples.
•Incorporate winter greens like broccoli and kale, offering not only flavour but also a significant dose of vitamin C.
 
Freshness Matters: Remember, the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables is at its peak when harvested. Prolonged storage and extended shelf life in supermarkets can lead to the degradation of their optimal micronutrients, emphasising the importance of consuming fresh produce8.
 
As we navigate winter’s festivities, understanding the impact of excessive drinking, reduced sunlight, and the interplay with vitamin deficiencies becomes crucial. Incorporating a balanced diet, mindful drinking habits, and considering supplements when needed can contribute to maintaining optimal health during this winter season and beyond!
 
References
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