Between COVID-19 and the chilly winter weather, many of us are spending a lot of time indoors these days. And while that might ensure that we stay socially distanced and warm, it could leave us lacking in our vitamin D intake.

Vitamin D is vital for strengthening bones, proper cell growth and even bolstering the immune system. It’s particularly important for older adults, especially women, who are at greater risk for developing osteoporosis.

In addition to promoting healthy bones, this important nutrient has been found to provide a strong “D-fense” against several other conditions – and might even play a role in their treatment.  These include:

• Heart disease and high blood pressure

• Diabetes

• Infections and immune system disorders

• Bone fractures in older adults caused by accidental falls

• Some types of cancer, such as colon, prostate and breast cancers

• Depression

A good deal of attention has also been paid to the benefits vitamin D provides to overall immune function and health, as studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased susceptibility to infection and the body’s ability to fight illness.

While a direct correlation between vitamin D and COVID-19 is still being studied, there is evidence that people with low vitamin D levels may be more vulnerable to upper respiratory tract infections. And vitamin D may help boost our bodies’ defense against viruses and bacteria.

There are several ways you can get the Vitamin D you need.

Let the sunshine in. Vitamin D is called the “sunshine vitamin” because solar rays are the best source for this essential nutrient. Your body produces vitamin D through exposure of bare skin to sunlight, which can sometimes be difficult this time of year.

If you’re not getting enough sun – at least 10 to 15 minutes several times a week – it probably means you aren’t getting enough vitamin D either.

Put the “D” in diet. While spending time outside is the best way to boost vitamin D levels, adding certain foods to your diet can help, too. These include fatty fish like salmon, tuna and sardines; egg yolks; mushrooms; cheese; red meat and beef liver. In addition, you can find many foods, including dairy products, juices and cereals, that have been fortified with vitamin D.

Take your vitamins. For many people, taking a vitamin D supplement might be the best way to ensure adequate intake. This is especially true for those who eat a vegetarian or vegan diet. How much you need will vary based on your age and health condition, so discuss this with your provider.

Unfortunately, if you’re low in vitamin D, you probably won’t have any symptoms, though fatigue and muscle and bone pain could be a red flag. If you often become sick, especially with colds or the flu, low vitamin D levels may be a contributing factor. And even depression has been linked to low levels of vitamin D.

Your provider can check your vitamin D levels with a simple blood test. The good news is that vitamin D deficiency is easily treatable.

Robyn Odzark, DO, a board-certified family medicine physician with Beaufort Memorial Bluffton Primary Care in Okatie.