As the seasons change, so should your supplement regimen — and here’s how.
Colder weather calls for changes to your skincare regimen, but what about other routines? Aside from moving workouts indoors and wearing more layers, your supplement routine should also be adjusted for the time of year.
“As the seasons change, your environment changes along with it, which can have a big impact on your nutrition quality and overall health,” explains Kelsey Lorencz, RDN, registered dietitian and founder of Graciously Nourished. For example, during the winter, you might find yourself eating less fresh produce and spending more time indoors with other people (and their germs). Updating your supplement routine can take these switches into consideration and ultimately, help you stay healthy all season long.
Your best bet for tweaking your supplement routine as safely and effectively as possible is by consulting a healthcare provider, such as functional medicine practitioner at THE WELL. A pro like such can adjust your supplement regimen according to your medical history and blood work, says Lauren Burkowski, MS, health coach at THE WELL New York.
Still, there are some supplements that are generally recommended for winter health, as outlined below. Typically, it’s best to add or increase these nutrients gradually so you can keep track of any side effects, unless your provider says otherwise. Ahead, how to change your supplement routine for your well-being this winter.
Fuel Up On Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient involved in a myriad of processes, including mineral absorption, immune function and the production of serotonin (the “feel good” hormone). It’s also a hot topic in the cooler months — and for good reason. The body creates vitamin D when it’s exposed to sunlight; during the winter, however, many people are typically exposed to less sunlight between staying indoors and bundling up in more gear. This drop in sun exposure can lead to low levels of vitamin D in the body, which is linked to higher levels of inflammation, symptoms of depression, lower immune function and fatigue, says Burkowski.
RELATED: How to Cope With Seasonal Depression
What’s more, relying on food for adequate vitamin D levels can be tricky, as there aren’t many food sources with the nutrient, says Lorencz. So, unless you’re living near the equator with year-round sun exposure (aka a dream come true), it might be worth supplementing with vitamin D. The daily recommended intake is 600 to 800 IU, per the Mayo Clinic. Worth noting: If you’re already taking vitamin D, you can technically safely increase your intake up to 4,000 IU, but touch base with your doctor first. Taking more than 4,000 IU per day can increase the risk of overdose, as vitamin D is fat soluble and can accumulate in tissues over time, says Lorencz.
Unwind With Stress-Relieving Ingredients
Between the holidays, end-of-year work pressure and cooler weather (at least in some locations), the winter months can be particularly stressful. Luckily, though, it’s possible to find extra support via certain supplements, such as L-tyrosine, a non-essential amino acid and precursor to neurotransmitters that regulate mood and stress response, shares Alison Acerra, MS, RSDN, registered dietitian and founder of Strategic Nutrition Design. She notes that, according to research, supplementation can improve cognitive function under stressful conditions, ultimately helping how you think and approach mental and emotional challenges. The recommended intake is 150 to 300 milligrams daily (and before meals) for up to three months, adds Acerra.
Another mental health-supporting supplement to consider adding to your regimen is ashwagandha. It’s an adaptogen, meaning it can help the body adapt to and recover from stressors when it’s taken regularly, says Burkowski. She also notes that your ideal dosing and frequency will depend on several factors — think: stress levels and sleep habits — so check with your doctor for personalized recommendations.
“As the seasons change, your environment changes along with it, which can have a big impact on your nutrition quality and overall health.”
Support Sleep With Magnesium
While it can be difficult to get out of bed on any morning throughout the year, it can be especially challenging when it’s still dark and chilly outside — as is the case in many places during the winter. But getting a restful night of sleep — and creating a morning routine you love — can make rising and shining a bit easier. Supplemental magnesium — specifically, magnesium glycinate — may also help, as it can calm the nervous system, which is essential for falling and staying asleep, says Burkowski. “The recommended dose can be anywhere from 240 to 480 milligrams daily depending on the person.” Testing the levels of the mineral in your blood can help determine dosing (as is the case with many other supplements on this list as well, BTW).
Prioritize Vitamin C and Zinc
“During the winter, [many] spend more time indoors in close proximity to others, increasing the chances of getting sick with colds, flu and other illnesses,” says Lorencz. The risk is even higher if holiday travel and social gatherings are on your to-do list. So, “having sufficient vitamin C and zinc stores at this time is especially important so that your immune system is ready to fight off invading germs,” notes Lorencz.
Specifically, vitamin C works by helping your immune cells get rid of potentially harmful germs. It also protects the body by neutralizing free radicals (i.e. harmful molecules that can damage cells), according to Burkowski. A daily dose of 200 to 1,000 milligrams could help keep sickness at bay. But if vitamin C is already part of your regimen, avoid taking more than 1,000 milligrams daily for a long period of time, as doing so can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, heartburn or stomach cramps, says Burkowski.
As for zinc? It's essential for vital processes such as immune function and wound healing. However, ongoing zinc supplementation at a high dose (i.e. more than 25 milligrams daily or what you'd likely find in an "immune blend" product) is not usually recommended unless your physician says so, according Burkowski. So it’s best to only take higher amounts of the mineral when you feel a cold or illness coming on — specifically, up to 40 milligrams daily until symptoms subside, she says. Otherwise, when you’re not feeling run down, stick to the recommended daily allowance of 11 milligrams for men and 8 milligrams for women (which might already be in your multivitamin).
Omega-3 fatty acids, or “good” polyunsaturated fats, might have a place in your winter supplement routine. “Omega-3s help [reduce] inflammation, bring moisture to dry skin and may even help with circulation, providing multiple benefits to many people during the winter months,” explains Burkowski. Dosing can vary from person to person, so if you’re not already following guidance from a provider, take the dosage on the bottle, she says. Burkowski also recommends purchasing a good quality supplement; look for a product made with wild-caught, cold water fish and make sure your product is third-party tested for quality.
Focus On Probiotics
Digestive health is important all year round, but during the winter months, your gut might need extra support. “The holidays are full of parties and celebrations where you may not be eating your normal diet,” says Lorencz. “Probiotics could help your digestive system stay healthy while you’re eating foods that may be delicious but less nutritionally sound during the holiday season.” According to Lorencz, probiotics can help digest food, produce essential vitamins and prevent overgrowth of “bad” gut bacteria that might otherwise cause GI distress.
Bonus: As probiotics help to prevent the overgrowth of bad bacteria, they’ll improve the overall balance of your gut, which is crucial for a healthy immune system, says Lorecnz. Probiotics can also promote the production of substances that activate the immune system, further keeping you well during the winter.
On that note, when choosing a probiotic, Lorencz suggests asking your doctor about the best one for you given your medical history. Generally, digestion- and immune-supporting probiotic supplements include strains from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium families, per Lorencz. She adds that typical doses include 10 to 20 billion colony forming units (CFUs) per day, but actual effective dosages depend on the particular strain and product.
RELATED: How to Treat a "Bad Stomach"
Hydrate With Hyaluronic Acid
You’ve probably heard about hyaluronic acid in the skincare space, but did you know it can be used as a supplement too? “If winter takes a toll on your skin’s hydration, a hyaluronic acid supplement could help,” says Lorencz. “Cold outside air and indoor heat can make skin dry and flakey, but researchers have found that taking at least 120 milligrams of hyaluronic acid [each day] could help restore its moisture.”
Of course, supplementing with hyaluronic acid is just one piece of the hydration puzzle. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water and eat hydrating foods (think: fruits, veggies and soups) to keep your body well-hydrated, adds Lorencz.