Should your supplements change with the seasons?

Best supplements for women: does your vitamin supplement regime need to change with the seasons?

Posted by for Nutrition

If you’ve been downing vitamin D tablets through winter, you may be wondering if you still need them going into the hotter months. Here’s your complete guide to seasonal supplements.

In recent weeks, it’s begun to feel a lot more like spring. The sun is (intermittently) shining, the air is warmer and the days are longer (goodbye travelling to and from work in the dark!). As the seasons change, so do our body’s needs: during the winter, we all need more external help in making enough vitamin D to protect our immune systems. When it’s hot, on the other hand, we sweat more – losing important vitamins and minerals

So, with a few months to go before we’re in the full swing of summer, do we need to change the vitamins and minerals we’ve been taking throughout the winter? 

We’re more in tune with our nutritional needs than ever

Looking after our bodies should always be the priority, but since the beginning of the pandemic, many of us have been increasingly aware of what our bodies need to be and feel their best. Our diets, our lifestyles and even where we live can impact the vitamins and minerals our bodies receive on a daily basis. 

We may meet our body’s requirement for certain vitamins without even realising it. And the same can be said for vitamin deficiencies, which can cause a whole host of problems including fatigue, aches and a less robust immune response. 

And while it’s true that you can get the vast majority of necessary nutrients from a plant-first, whole foods-heavy diet, sometimes it is necessary to help our bodies out by taking supplements that boost our levels of certain vitamins and minerals. The vitamin supplement market grew massively throughout the pandemic, with more people wanting to boost their immune systems and prepare their bodies to fight off Covid-19. In the UK alone, the vitamin and supplement manufacturing industry has grown 13.5% per year, every year, since 2017.

Should your vitamin intake change in the summer?

With so many of us popping pills, whizzing up protein shakes and downing omega-3 oils, how might we optimise our supplement usage to suit the seasons?

“During the summer, your body often uses more energy due to increased movement and activity,” says nutritionist Lujain Alhassan. “In winter, on the other hand, the lack of sunshine and colder temperatures can lead to different vitamin deficiencies.”

Research conducted by the University of Surrey found that vitamin D deficiency is a global health issue, particularly for Black communities and especially in the winter months. While more of us seem to be aware of possible vitamin deficiencies in the dark, dreary winter months, it is important that we adjust our vitamins to suit the seasonal changes.  

“Around 50% of the population has vitamin D insufficiency as they are not getting enough of this important vitamin through sun exposure and diet alone,” says Jessica Sepel, founder of JSHealth and clinical nutritionist. “It is advisable for us all to watch our vitamin D levels, however, individuals with darker skin or those who spend a lot of time indoors may need to supplement vitamin D throughout the entire year.”

Supplementing things like vitamin D and omega-3 are important all year round.
Supplementing things like vitamin D and omega-3 are important all year round.

Vitamins for reducing sun-related skin damage

While everybody has different requirements, Alhassan suggests supplementing vitamin A and E during the summer as she claims that they help in “reducing the sunlight’s UV damage”.

Vitamin A and E are important in the function of a healthy immune system, helping us see in dim lighting and keeping the skin healthy. As we move into warmer weather, we become more at risk from sunburn, so maintaining good levels of these vitamins is vital in ensuring a natural layer of protection against UV damage and helping the skin stay healthy (although obviously, no supplement or food should be used as a replacement for proper sunscreen!).  

We should also supplement omega-3 for a similar reason. “Research suggests that the fatty acids DHA and EPA can help protect the skin from UV damage,” Pauline Cox, nutritionist and author, tells Stylist. “Some research also suggests an increase in protection from sunburn.”

One small study, published in the journal Carcinogenesis, found that people who consumed 4g of EPA omega-3 for three months found that they were 136% more resistant to sunburns

Staving off summer colds with vitamin C

Seasonal changes can often cause cold and flu symptoms. Ever been taken down by an epic summer cold? It seems ridiculous when it’s hot and sunny outside to be dosed up on Lemsip and Vicks. But summer sniffles are common. Sepel advises supplementing vitamin C as it “provides immune support by attacking the nucleic acid of the virus… This makes it great for anything from hay fever to colds to the flu.”

Sepel suggests that supplements containing andrographis, zinc and echinacea are especially beneficial as they all support healthy immune system function, helping us tackle those frustrating cold symptoms that leave us run down and fed up.

Supplements for hay fever

Spring also marks the beginning of hay fever season for the watery-eyed unlucky ones among us. Our bodies react to the increased pollen levels in the air by turbocharging their production of histamine, which leaves us with puffy, itchy eyes, runny noses and congestion. You might think that high-dose antihistamines and a daily box of tissues are your only options, but Cox believes supplements can also help reduce symptoms.   

“Quercetin is a supplement with natural antihistamine properties that could help alleviate some of the symptoms.” A plant pigment, it’s found in lots of foods including green tea, apples and berries and has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that have been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease, among other issues. 

As an allergy relief, various test-tube and animal studies have found that it may block enzymes involved in inflammation, as well as suppressing the production of histamine. One study even found that feeding peanut-allergic mice quercetin supplements suppressed anaphylactic reactions. 

Obviously, more research is needed to confirm those benefits in humans, but if you are already starting to feel the familiar facial itch, it can’t hurt to try a daily quercetin supplement or up your intake of foods like peppers, onions, tomatoes, red apples, broccoli, berries, tea and red grapes. 

When should we look to tweak our vitamin supplies?

“It can be difficult to distinguish between seasonal changes, particularly with unpredictable weather conditions,” explains Alhassan. “However, as a general rule of thumb, it is best to change supplementation as daylight-saving time changes.”

Sepel encourages us to “tune into [our] bodies” in order to recognise when we need to change our supplements. “I am a big believer in the idea that your body sends messages via symptoms like low energy, low libido, anxiety, stress, hair loss or digestive discomfort.”

If you’re feeling fatigued or run down with the changing of the clocks, it might be time to look at your supplement cupboard.

For more nutrition tips, visit the Strong Women Training Club.

Images: Getty

Sign up for workouts, nutritious recipes and expert tips, plus our Strong Women magazine with expert advice on building strength & resilience sent to your inbox.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Share this article