South Africa’s coldest winter yet, supplementing your diet with Vitamin D decreases risk of infection, says expert

Vitamin D reduces inflammation, improves gut health and offers protection against respiratory infections. Picture: Kateryna Hliznitsova/ Unsplash

Vitamin D reduces inflammation, improves gut health and offers protection against respiratory infections. Picture: Kateryna Hliznitsova/ Unsplash

Published Jul 5, 2023


South Africa is currently experiencing one of its coldest winters on record, a phenomenon attributed to the effects of global warming.

Despite rising global temperatures, climatic systems that produce abnormally cold weather continue to bring on cold spells, causing medical risks like hypothermia, frostbite and disorders linked to the cold such as cardiovascular and respiratory conditions.

Research indicates that as the world warms, these cold weather patterns are expected to persist, necessitating special precautions to prevent cold exposure and boost immunity.

To mitigate these risks that come with climate change, experts are urging South Africans to take special precautions to prevent cold exposure and eat immune-boosting foods and boost their immunity.

Staying as warm as possible and staying informed about weather warnings and updates are crucial steps in safeguarding against the dangers of the cold.

Vanessa Ascencao, a nutrition consultant, explained that, during the winter, reduced sunlight exposure increases the risk of vitamin D deficiency and increases the chance of infection.

“Supplementing with vitamin D3 during the winter months can help support the immune system and prevent flu and colds.”

According to health expert Ascencao, supplementing with vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium and phosphate, which are essential for maintaining healthy bones, teeth, and muscles.

Researchers have found that low levels of vitamin D were present in 82% of Covid-19 patients, contributing to a higher risk of contracting the virus.

“Vitamin D reduces inflammation, improves gut health, and offers protection against respiratory infections, however, natural food sources for this vitamin are limited,” she said.

Countries like the UK and Poland have already implemented strategies to address vitamin D deficiency, including seasonal supplementation during autumn and winter.

While specific data on vitamin D deficiency in South Africa is still limited, it has emerged as a growing health concern due to sedentary lifestyles, unhealthy eating habits, and high obesity rates.

Ascencao claims that approximately 63 per cent of black South Africans and 36 per cent of coloured South Africans are affected.

Here are some foods that are rich in vitamin D:

Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, trout, and tuna are excellent sources of vitamin D. These fish contain high levels of vitamin D3, the most bioavailable form of the vitamin.

Cod liver oil is a concentrated source of vitamin D. Just one tablespoon can provide more than the recommended daily intake of vitamin D for most people.

Canned tuna is another affordable option to boost vitamin D intake. However, it's important to choose tuna canned in oil rather than water because the oil preserves the vitamin D content.

Sardines are nutrient-dense fish that are packed with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D.

Egg yolks contain small amounts of vitamin D. They are also a good source of other important nutrients like protein and choline.

Many food products are fortified with vitamin D to help people meet their daily requirements. These include milk, orange juice, breakfast cereals, and plant-based milk substitutes like soy or almond milk. Check the labels to ensure the product is fortified with vitamin D.

Besides food sources, here are some additional ways to increase vitamin D levels:

If it's challenging to get enough vitamin D through food and sunlight, you may consider taking a vitamin D supplement. It is advisable to consult a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate dosage for your specific needs.

Remember, maintaining optimal vitamin D levels is important for overall health, but it's crucial to strike a balance and not exceed recommended daily intake as excess vitamin D can be harmful.

It's always best to consult with a healthcare professional who can provide personalised advice based on your unique circumstances.

“In addition, ensure a well-balanced diet that includes lots of colourful fruits, dark green leafy vegetables, healthy fats, fatty fish and lean protein. Drink lots of water and avoid sugar and processed foods.

Spend more time outdoors in the sun, get regular exercise, manage stress and prioritise getting good quality sleep,” Ascencao added.