This article is written to answer the question: do you need different vitamins in different seasons?
Vitamins are a hot topic in health sciences today, and in fact are a relatively new science altogether! In 1912, just over 100 years ago, Casimir Funk coined the term “vitamine” and research dove into understanding the essential nutrients needed to sustain healthy bodies and determining what previously believed “illnesses” were actually vitamin deficiency. Being such a young science, much has been learned about vitamins in the last 100+ years, and there is still so much to learn!
Vitamins for Vitality
Etymologically, vitamin means “life-giving amine,” coming from a time when vitamins were believed to contain amino acids. As indicated in the name, vitamins (and minerals!) are fundamental to all life, and it is the complex workings of 13 essential vitamins and additional minerals that allow our bodies to function at a healthy, sustainable rate.1 When we begin to understand the impact of vitamins on our bodies, and the drastic changes in our environment and food from midsummer to midwinter, especially in Saskatchewan, it only follows to ask: do I need different vitamins in different seasons?
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can show themselves in a variety of ways. For example, scurvy is actually caused by a deficiency of Vitamin C! Similarly, Rickets is a deficiency of Vitamin D. A lack of proper nutrients can lead to illness, mental disorders, failing organs, weak bones, and more! While these may seem like drastic impacts (and you may not think they will affect you, as you are not a pirate!), vitamin deficiencies at a lesser rate can influence fatigue, ability to sleep, poor mental health, general weakness, and beyond.
Living in Saskatchewan, it is likely you have heard that Canadians are prone to being Vitamin D deficient, particularly in the winter months. The truth is that anyone living above the 37th parallel (well within the United States) is at high risk of being Vitamin D deficient.2 During the months of November through March, the angle of the sun through the atmosphere does not provide sufficient UVB rays for us to absorb into our skin and create Vitamin D. Even from April to October, often the time we spend outside involves being covered up by clothing and sunscreen, inadvertently stopping us from absorbing enough UVB rays to create a sustainable amount of Vitamin D.
Beyond this, in an age of processed foods and being overfed and undernourished, many individuals are not getting their necessary vitamins and minerals through their regular food intake. Earlier in history, when people followed the natural cycles of the earth more closely through agriculture and seasonal eating, though the amount of food intake might have varied due to wealth and availability of food, the food that was eaten was rich in nutrients necessary for the activity of that time of year. Today, when we have berries and fruits outside of their natural season, we are likely getting less nutrition from them as foods grown outside of their regular season have been shown to hold less nutrients than their seasonally grown counterparts.3 The levels of nutrients we gain from our food has decreased substantially, and supplementation has become much more important.4
Winter vs Summer Vitamins?
Do you need different vitamins in different seasons? Yes and no. While it is true that during the winter months your Vitamin D levels will be, if anything, lower than in the summer months, the truth is that supplementing with Vitamin D is beneficial all year round! Additionally, other vitamins and minerals often recommended during the winter months including Vitamin C, Iron, topical Vitamin E (for that dry, itchy skin!), Vitamin B-12, and Zinc are beneficial throughout all 12 months, as again the amount found in the foods we eat is often insufficient. As the seasons change and our bodies go through the same cycle the earth does (why else would we all get so sleepy during the winter, when the earth has gone into a resting, rejuvenating state?), it is important to listen to your body and determine what supplements might be necessary to keep yourself running at peak capacity.
The vitamins and minerals listed above are some of the standards that have been recommended during winter months, for a variety of reasons! Let’s take a closer look at a few of them:
Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine” vitamin. As there are so few known vitamins, our bodies’ processes require a complex network of all nutrients to run effectively. That said, Vitamin D helps by boosting your mood, minimizing mood disorders, lessening pain, and building up your body’s natural ability to prevent infection – making it great for cold and flu season! Though Vitamin D is technically not a vitamin, according to modern understandings of the concept, it is critical to our body’s functions. Another way to understand Vitamin D might be to consider it a “neurohormone,” as unlike traditional vitamins, our body can produce Vitamin D by absorbing the sun’s rays in addition to ingesting foods such as oily fishes (salmon, pickerel, herring, etc.), red meat, liver, and egg yolks.
Vitamin C is another fundamental “winter” vitamin that is great all year round! Vitamin C is often linked to cold and flu season, as though it does not necessarily prevent colds, it has been shown to reduce their severity and duration. Vitamin C plays a huge role in the production of collagen in our body, meaning it is involved in the growth, development, and repair of body tissues, as well as plays a large part in the maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth, the absorption of iron, and the general function of the immune system. Vitamin C can generally be found in citrus fruits such as oranges, peppers, strawberries, blackcurrants, broccoli, brussels sprouts, potatoes, winter squash, and pine needle tea.
Iron is one of the key minerals often recommended during the winter months, as it produces hemoglobin, the protein responsible for carrying oxygen to your tissues. It is estimated that almost 5 million people in the United States suffer from iron deficiency, which can lead to fatigue, cold hands and feet, brittle nails, and headaches. During the winter months, iron is important as it helps regulate your body temperature, an important bodily function in the Saskatchewan cold! Iron can be found in foods such as red meat, pork, poultry, seafood, beans, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, and peas.
Vital Vitamin Values
As you can see, your body requires proper nutrition in the form of vitamins and minerals all year long, and while the winter months can make us even more susceptible to certain vitamin deficiencies, the truth is that everyone can benefit from being aware of their vitamin intake throughout the year. Keep in mind that every body is different, and every body’s needs will be slightly different.
While we all need the proper blend of vitamins and minerals to keep our bodies working at peak performance, be aware of your body, your lifestyle, and your personal needs. When determining which vitamins you want to supplement with, take the time to do some research and talk to professionals. Your body is the most important responsibility you have to take care of, and is worth the time and effort!
Proper nutrition will impact every aspect of your life, from personal to professional. The right amount of nutrients in your body will help you think faster, work harder, smile brighter, and feel better all around. This winter, as you watch the sun come up later and later in the day, and notice yourself experiencing the winter blues and feeling chilly, fatigued, or irritable, consider the impact of nutrition on your body and start diving into the booming science of vitamins and minerals for a healthier, happier you.
Download this resource Do I Need Different Vitamins Per Season.
1 “Vitamins and Minerals for Older Adults.” National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/vitamins-and-minerals-older-adults
2 “Time for More Vitamin D.” Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/time-for-more-vitamin-d
3 Maduwanthi, S.D.T., R. A. U. J. Marapana. “Induced Ripening Agents and Their Effect on Fruit Quality of Banana.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6521425/
4 “Dirt Poor: Have Fruits and Vegetables Become Less Nutritious?” Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/soil-depletion-and-nutrition-loss/