What is Vitamin D, and Do I Need Some Now that I’m Indoors All the Time?

The sun giveth, and the sun taketh away.

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There’s plenty of advantages to self-isolating indoors all the time: You’re away from the elements like rain and snow, you’ve (hopefully) got a warm place to sleep and, above all in trying times like these, you’re safe from the scourge of the coronavirus.

Unfortunately, there’s one annoying disadvantage: You’re frickin’ indoors all the time, which sucks, not just because it’s generally boring and lonely, but also because it means a distinct lack of sun — something our bodies need, actually, to survive.

Why do our bodies need the sun, you ask? No, not because we get our powers from the Photonucleic Effect like Superman, but instead because the sun prompts the human body to synthesize vitamin D, a very important nutrient responsible for calcium absorption, maintaining healthy bones and other vital bodily functions.

And when we don’t get our vitamin D because of a lack of sun, it can be bad. For example, according to the NCBI, over two thirds of prison inmates (a cohort of the population that, under normal circumstances, get significantly less sun than the rest of us) are either vitamin D deficient or insufficient. Studies have shown that, after 12 months in Antarctica (where the sun doesn’t shine at all for half the year), 90 percent of residents on the frozen continent were vitamin D deficient. In both cases, without vitamin D supplementation, that lack of sun can mean an increased chance of developing bone diseases like osteoporosis, as well as other preventable health issues like prostate cancer, obesity and heart disease

So does that mean that you, isolated in your own home, also need vitamin D supplements? The good news is that the answer is probably not. While you can’t get the type of sun you need (ultraviolet B radiation) by sitting at a window inside, it’s not like you can’t step a couple paces outdoors. And since you really only need a few minutes each day to get all the vitamin D you need, a quick jaunt around the block (wear a mask!) should be more than enough (and then put on some sunscreen after that!)

Plus, not all vitamin D that your body generates comes from the sun; a lot comes from the foods we eat, too. Things like fish, eggs and cheese are great sources of vitamin D, and probably already a staple of your diet. And if that’s not enough vitamin D for you, you can always buy some supplements online, or at your local supermarket. 

No one likes being stuck inside for days, weeks or — eek! — months at a time, but it isn’t cause to spiral into a vitamin D panic, because there are plenty of ways to get your quota even when you’re not out and about like normal. But if it makes you feel better, it wouldn’t hurt to stock up on supplements anyway — you know, just in case the sun disappears. It’s been that kind of year.