Are You Vitamin D Deficient?
Do you find yourself indoors most of the day? Do you cover up completely with clothing when going outside, or slather yourself with high-SPF sunscreen? Do you adhere to a strict vegetarian diet shunning fish, dairy products, or eggs? Do you live in a northern climate that gets little sunlight throughout the year? If so, you may be at a risk of vitamin D deficiency. Having adequate Vitamin D levels is vital to living a healthy lifestyle. Having good levels of Vitamin D has been linked to the treatment and prevention of type 1 and 2 diabetes, hypertension, glucose intolerance, and multiple sclerosis. A severe vitamin D deficiency can result in rickets; a disorder that results in soft, brittle bones; asthma; cognitive impairment; increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease; and even cancer.
What are the symptoms of low vitamin D?
Here are some signs that you may be deficient in vitamin D:
Severe fatigue: If you suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome or are just unusually tired, you may have a vitamin D deficiency.
Weight gain or trouble losing weight: Vitamin D helps regulate weight. When there’s not enough vitamin D circulating in your body, you cannot shed weight easily.
Muscle aches and body pains: Pain that travels about your body can be an indication of low vitamin D. One day the pain can manifest in your legs and the next it could be your back.
What conditions have been linked to vitamin D deficiency?
Cancer, asthma, diabetes, periodontal disease, schizophrenia, depression, chronic kidney disease, muscle weakness, flu susceptibility, psoriasis, obesity, and cognitive impairment all have a link to low vitamin D levels. Studies have shown a reduced risk or a marked improvement of these disease when proper vitamin D levels were restored.
Who is at risk for a vitamin D deficiency?
Most adults do not have a vitamin D deficiency; however, there are groups of people that are at a higher risk for low vitamin D than others. These groups would benefit from getting their vitamin levels tested promptly. At risk groups include:
Those who do not get enough exposure to sunlight: Vitamin D is often called the “sunshine vitamin” because your body produces it when you soak in the sun’s rays. There are several reasons why certain groups of people do not get enough sunlight during the day: they work indoors; they live in climates, especially northern ones, that do not receive a lot of sunlight throughout the year; when they do go outdoors they use copious amounts of sunscreen or cover up with head-to-toe clothing; or they are homebound.
Those who are strict vegetarians: In addition to sunshine, vitamin D can also be obtained from eating certain foods. Fish, eggs, certain meats, fortified dairy products, and certain grain products all contain vitamin D. Those who do not consume any animal products miss out on the foods that have the highest amounts of vitamin D.
Those who have dark skin: Ethnicities that have dark skin naturally produce higher levels of melanin. Melanin acts like a natural sunscreen; blocking the sun’s rays and thus restricting the production of vitamin D. The darker your skin, the more you are at risk for a deficiency in the “sunshine vitamin.”
Those who are overweight: Vitamin D is extracted from the blood from fat cells. If you have too many fat cells, vitamin D will not circulate in your body properly.
Those with kidneys that cannot properly convert vitamin D: The kidneys are responsible for converting vitamin D to its active form. As we age, our kidneys do not work as well which may result in a vitamin D deficiency.
Those who have digestive problems: People suffering from Crohn’s Disease, cystic fibrosis, or celiac disease cannot properly digest foods that contain vitamin D resulting in a potential vitamin D deficiency
How can you know with certainty you have a vitamin D deficiency?
If you suspect you have vitamin D deficiency, visit your doctor and request a simple blood test called the 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test. A level of 20-50 ng/mL is ideal for healthy people, although some studies suggest those levels should be even higher. You may benefit from treatment if your levels are less than 20ng/mL. If your levels are lower than 12ng/mL, you have a vitamin D deficiency and need to take action immediately.
What can you do to treat or prevent vitamin D deficiency?
Get more exposure to sunlight: Take daily walks, do not cover up entirely when going outside, limit sunscreen use (within reason) when outside, sit outside for lunch, or take up activities that require you to be outdoors.
Take vitamin D supplements: Most multivitamins contain at least 400 units of vitamin D. However, if you are deficient, that amount alone may not be enough. You may want to take between 2,000 and 4,000 units of vitamin D daily if you are low.
Eat foods rich in vitamin D: Foods like fish, oysters, caviar, fortified cereals, salami, ham, sausages, eggs, mushrooms, fortified dairy products, fortified soy products, or fortified orange juice can give you some of the vitamin D that you need each day.
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