By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -As the fall days continue to shorten by almost three minutes a day, Jessica from St. Louis Park wanted to know: Can we get enough Vitamin D from the Minnesota sun?

In the wintertime, the short answer is no.

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“Basically, north of New York, many months of the year we can’t get Vitamin D,” said Dr. Debra Bell, an integrative family practitioner with the Penny George Institute of Health and Healing.

Dr. Bell says from mid-October through April, the sun’s angle is never high enough to help our skin cells produce Vitamin D, because we can’t properly absorb the UV rays. She also says there isn’t enough Vitamin D in foods like milk to give us enough either.

“Most people should be supplementing with Vitamin D for at least the winter months,” she said.

Vitamin D is important for our bones, as well as respiratory and immune systems. Dr. Bell says the more experts learn about Vitamin D, the more they believe we need.

“It’s hard to know if you’re Vitamin D deficient, the symptoms are very subtle,” she said.

Some people can experience fatigue or depression. She says the best way to determine if someone has a Vitamin D deficiency is to get a blood test.

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A winter 2010 study of Allina employees found 60 percent had low Vitamin D levels, 30 percent were very low and 6 percent were profoundly low.

In the summertime, Dr. Bell says we can get good Vitamin D from the sun if we spend 30 minutes a day outside between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. A light box or rays through a window won’t work.

And though many doctors recommend sunscreen whenever people are outside, Dr. Bell says some are fine-tuning their advice when it comes to sun protection.

“That’s a fine line,” said Dr. Bell. “You don’t want to get burned. You just need a brief period of direct sunlight.”

Vitamin D can’t be stored in the summer and then used in the winter. It’s stored in our fat and constantly processed.

“There’s a lot of people who would never suspect it,” Dr. Bell said. “They say, ‘Oh, I spend the whole summer in the garden by the lake,’ and then they get their Vitamin D levels in January and they’re surprised.”

She recommends 1000 IU of Vitamin D for people who can’t get tested but warns without a proper blood test, it’s hard to know how much you need.

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Be careful, though, she says, because people can take too much Vitamin D.

Heather Brown