If you feel off-colour and lethargic during the cold, dark winter months, don’t reach for the chocolate – grab a few supplements instead.
While vitamins and minerals are essential for health, it can be harder to get them from our diet and lifestyle during the winter, when we’re more likely to be staying warm indoors, potentially swapping germs with other people, and snacking on unhealthy comfort food.
But certain vitamins and minerals can help give you a winter boost and help fight infection.
Dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton from the Health and Food Supplements Information Service says: “After a summer of salads, fruit and fish, it’s tempting to turn to stodgy comfort food and snacks, which may not always provide us with the range of vitamins and minerals we require for good health.
“If you don't have a healthy balanced diet, it’s advisable to take a daily multivitamin and multimineral supplement to top levels up.
“And in accordance with recent Public Health England recommendations, everybody should take a daily 10 micrograms vitamin D supplement during autumn and winter.”
1. Vitamin D
Reference Nutrition Intake (RNI): 10mcg.
We usually get most of our vitamin D from sunlight, but in winter that’s difficult, particularly in the UK. The key benefit of vitamin D is that it helps boost the immune system, and can help prevent common colds and flu – one study found children who took vitamin D every day for four months during the winter reduced their risk of getting flu by 40%.
The vitamin also helps vital organs work efficiently, helps prevent diseases like rickets, aids bone mineralisation and is useful in improving heart and blood conditions. And a new study has found that vitamin D could also help protect against severe asthma attacks, which are more common in winter because they can be sparked by the cold air.
2. Vitamin A
Vitamin A boosts the immune system and helps prevent and fight off infections. It can also promote healthy skin and good vision, and is particularly good in the winter months for improving dry skin, which can be worse in winter due to the drying effect of central heating. However, too much vitamin A can be toxic, and pregnant women in particular should avoid taking too much because it’s been linked to birth defects.
3. Vitamin C
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is a key supplement for the winter, as it’s been shown to help protect against the common cold, and help get rid of colds if you do succumb. It also helps keep the body’s cells healthy, and is involved in the production of collagen, a protein responsible for the health of tissues and organs including the skin, teeth, gums, bones and blood vessels. The vitamin can help lower cholesterol too.
4. Vitamin B Complex
RNI is different for each vitamin in the complex.
Vitamin B complex comprises eight vitamins: biotin, folic acid, pyridoxine, cobalamin, niacin, pantothenic acid, thiamine and riboflavin. The vitamins have various functions, but particularly important during the winter is the action of vitamin B3, which can reduce tiredness and fatigue.
In addition, vitamin B1 has been shown to aid the normal function of the heart, and B12 contributes to normal psychological function. Vitamin B complex can also help support the immune system.
Cartilage, tendons and ligaments rely on glucosamine to build their connective tissues, so this naturally-occurring biochemical can combat joint problems which may be worse during the winter. In addition, it can reduce the risk of kidney stones.
RNI: 8.7mg a day for men (19-64 years), 14.8mg a day for women (19-50 years)
Iron is essential for forming red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. A good intake of iron is necessary for energy and intellectual performance, and a lack of iron leads to anaemia, causing lethargy and listlessness. But beware – too much iron may damage organs. Taking vitamin C with iron helps with its absorption.