Each season dietary habits change more or less. Typically, a noticeable shift occurs in food preferences as we transition from warm to cold weather. In part, this has to do with seasonality which continues to determine the availability of many different foods. But the shift in what we eat is also driven by the specific changes in environmental factors such as temperature which impact the body’s nutritional requirements.
However, the shift in dietary habits during winter time does not always completely satisfy the body’s nutritional requirements and may leave one open to nutritional deficiencies. And when basic nutritional requirements are not or cannot be met from diet alone, supplementation is the best course of action to make sure one stays optimally healthy in cold weather.
What dietary supplements to take in winter?
Whether it’s magnesium carbonate or magnesium citrate, glycinate or aspartate, magnesium is one of the best supplements to take this winter. The body naturally requires more resources during cold weather and magnesium is one of the most important elements to make sure you have enough of at this time of the year.
Magnesium is used by the body for over 300 different functions and the entire muscle system is reliant on the mineral, from the muscles in our legs to our heart. Making sure you get enough magnesium during winter can help combat and prevent painful muscle cramps such as foot cramps, calf cramps and leg cramps at night.
Cold weather is also likely to affect the cardiovascular system, often by causing blood vessel constriction in instances of exposure to very low temperatures. If high blood pressure is preexistent, this can create complications and increase risks of cardiovascular events. Taking magnesium as a dietary supplement will help keep blood pressure numbers within healthy parameters. Also see which magnesium to take.
Magnesium also affects the metabolism of vitamin D. More specifically, studies show ‘magnesium assists in the activation of vitamin D’. According to research, ‘all of the enzymes that metabolize vitamin D seem to require magnesium, which acts as a cofactor in the enzymatic reactions in the liver and kidneys’ (source).
During winter, the major source of vitamin D for the body is not sunlight, but dietary supplementation which makes magnesium all the more important for proper vitamin D activation. Vitamin D is needed for the immune system, and is involved in the endocrine system and hormone production, bone remodeling as well as supports mental health.
2) Vitamin C
Vitamin C is important during winter for immune system support, but also teeth and skin health, among other benefits, and requirements tend to be higher. Research has found that ‘normal skin contains high concentrations of vitamin C’ (source). Vitamin C is used to produce collagen fibers which provide the skin with structure and elasticity, and assist in wound healing.
Vitamin C also produces special types of collagen that provide teeth with resilience, contributing heavily to teeth health. Not just this, but it strengthens capillary walls and helps combat bleeding gums, a common side effect of vitamin C deficiency.
Vitamin C is found most abundantly in fresh produce such as raw fruits and vegetables. However, the intake of fresh produce tends to drop significantly during cold weather. To keep up with important processes in the body such as wound healing and maintain skin and teeth healthy, vitamin C can be provided from dietary supplements during winter.
An especially important role of vitamin C is that it offers immune system support. Vitamin C is physically present in white blood cells such as NK cells, B cells, T cells, neutrophils and macrophages where it has been found to enhance their activities.
Studies have found that ‘regularly administered vitamin C’ shortens ‘the duration of colds, indicating a biological effect’. Not just this, but ‘three controlled trials found that vitamin C prevented pneumonia’ (source).
Additionally, ‘a total of 148 animal studies indicated that vitamin C may alleviate or prevent infections caused by bacteria, viruses, and protozoa.’ Winter being the season of viral infections, it stands to reason that vitamin C is needed plentifully in the diet for good immune system support.
How much vitamin C a day in winter?
‘The EU Average Requirement of 90 mg/day for men and 80 mg/day for women’, while enough ‘to maintain a normal plasma level of 50 µmol/L’ and prevent scurvy, ‘may be inadequate when a person is under viral exposure and physiological stress’. ‘Higher intakes of vitamin C are likely to be needed during viral infections with 2–3 g/day required to maintain normal plasma levels’ (source).
‘The evidence to date indicates that oral vitamin C (…) may reduce the incidence and duration of respiratory infections’ when taken in amounts of 2 to 8 grams per day (source). Such intakes are extremely difficult to attain from diet alone, making supplementation the only viable solution.
3) Vitamin D
Vitamin D is one of the most important essential nutrients to supplement with during winter. Vitamin D is absolutely needed for immune system support, boosts mood and holds benefits for mental health. Exposure to UVB radiation from sunlight naturally induces the synthesis of vitamin D in the skin and represents the biggest source of vitamin D for the human body. See more benefits of sunlight exposure.
But in winter there is little to no sunlight exposure which causes a major drop in vitamin D production and puts people at risk for a deficiency. This leaves supplementation as the only viable solution for meeting daily requirements for the entirety of the cold season.
Studies show that immune cells such as B cells, T cells, and antigen-presenting cells, express the vitamin D receptor which means they bind to the vitamin which is necessary to carry out immune system responses. Vitamin D also actively stimulates the production of certain antibodies that are active in the immune system response.
Just as important, it ‘can modulate the innate and adaptive immune responses’ (source) due to its immunomodulating action ‘targeting various immune cells, including monocytes, macrophages, dendritic cells (DCs), as well as T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes’ (source).
Another reason why it’s important to supplement with vitamin D during winter is because of the extensive role the vitamin plays in mental health. Research has found mental health declines during the cold season and the decline can largely be attributed to the lack of sunlight exposure and, by extension, lack of vitamin D production in the body.
According to studies, vitamin D deficiency ‘has been suggested to be associated with an enhanced risk of major depressive disorder (MDD) and anxiety disorders’. Conversely, vitamin D supplementation has been ‘associated with the reduction of symptoms of depression and anxiety, particularly when the supplementation was carried out in individuals with an MDD diagnosis’ (12 out of 13 studies with major depressive disorder diagnosis had positive results with vitamin supplementation) (source).
Vitamin D has been shown to be involved in neurotransmission and the production of various neuro-hormones, as well as regulate the nutrition, metabolism and growth of neural tissue. Via its role in synthesizing neuro-hormones, vitamin D regulates brain serotonergic activity, with important benefits for mood and disposition.
Zinc is important especially during winter and the entirety of the cold season for its benefits for the immune system above all else. According to research, zinc is ‘vital in both the innate and acquired responses to viral infection’ , making it a crucial nutrient to acquire during the cold season when viral respiratory infections are rampant.
Zinc has important antiviral and immuno-modulatory effects and a deficiency ‘results in an alteration of cell barrier function in lung’ tissue as well as ‘reduces lymphocyte counts and impairs their function’, affecting the immune system response.
Conversely, zinc supplementation has been observed to increase ‘the number of T cells and NK cells’ as well as ‘IL-2 and soluble IL-2 receptor expression’. Zinc can ‘interfere directly with viral replication and protein synthesis, providing beneficial and therapeutic effects against viral infections’, including inhibiting ‘the synthesis, replication and transcription complex of coronaviruses’ (source 1, source 2).
Studies have observed that taking zinc (ideally together with vitamin C) can ‘ameliorate symptoms and shorten the duration of respiratory tract infections including the common cold’ and ‘reduce the incidence and improve the outcome of pneumonia’. Randomized controlled intervention trials base their results on intakes of up to 30 mg of zinc (source).
This post was updated on Saturday / October 23rd, 2021 at 10:37 PM