The Sunshine Vitamin – Although we refer to it as a vitamin, vitamin D is actually a hormone.  Our body makes vitamin D from cholesterol when the skin is exposed to the sun.  We can also get vitamin D through food; fatty fish, fortified dairy products, and egg yolks.  But, it is very difficult to get it from food alone. 

Vitamin D deficiency is very common, affecting about 50% of children and adults worldwide. Every tissue in the body has vitamin D receptors, including the brain, heart, muscles, and immune system.  This means vitamin D is needed at every level for the body to function.  Vitamin D deficiency has significant medical and psychological consequences.  The signs usually start subtle and then become significant.  Good news… it’s easy to fix!  

Risk factors include

DARK SKIN

Dark-skinned individuals’ high level of melanin impairs absorption of vitamin D, which is made when skin is exposed to ultraviolet radiation found in natural sunlight.

ELDERLY

As people age they lose some of their ability to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight.  Also, elderly people who are homebound are less likely to spend time outdoors. 

LOW CONSUMPTION OF FOOD FORTIFIED/CONTAINING VITAMIN D

People on a vegan diet are at high risk of suffering from vitamin D deficiency since most of the foods taken are not sources of vitamin D or just contain small amounts of it.

ALWAYS WEARING SUNSCREEN

We all know UVB radiation from the sun is the major cause of skin damage and cancer.  But, we also know the sun is the most efficient way for us to make vitamin D.  Sunscreens with a high SPF filter out the wavelengths that cause the production of vitamin D in the skin. 

SPF of 15 or higher can reduce the body’s vitamin D production by 99 percent. To boost and maintain optimal vitamin D levels, researchers recommend spending about 10 to 30 minutes in midday sun twice each week, without the protection of sunscreen and exposing face, neck, arms, and legs.  

LIVING FAR FROM THE EQUATOR

People living in areas farther away from the equator make less vitamin D in their skin. In these areas, more of the sun’s rays, especially UVB rays, are absorbed by the earth’s ozone layer.  People who live farther away from the equator need to spend more time in the sun to produce enough. Which is further complicated in the long, cold winter months!  

CERTAIN MEDICAL DISEASES

Celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, and chrohn’s disease can all affect your intestine’s ability to absorb vitamin D from the food you eat.  

Common signs you may be deficient in Vitamin D

FREQUENT ILLNESSES AND INFECTIONS

Vitamin D plays a major role in our immune system, so if you are contracting things like the common cold, strep throat, the flu, or other infections and illnesses more frequently than you normally would and taking much longer to recover, it could mean you are low in Vitamin D.  

CHRONIC BONE AND LOWER BACK PAIN

Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, which is essential for bone health. Deficiency can negatively impact your nerves, muscles and your immune system.  A common symptom of vitamin D deficiency is joint and lower back pain.

SLOW WOUND HEALING

Cuts taking along time to heal?  Vitamin D impacts your body’s ability to heal its wounds. If you do not get enough vitamin D, you’re may experience impaired wound healing. This can be particularly problematic for people who are going through surgery or serious injuries.

CHRONIC FATIGUE  

Low levels of vitamin D can cause chronic  fatigue despite how much sleep you get.

DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY

Vitamin D helps to regulate certain chemicals in your brain, including those that impact your mood.  If you aren’t getting enough vitamin D, your mood could end up suffering.  

Some studies show that by giving vitamin D to people who are deficient helps improve depression, including seasonal depression that occurs during the colder months and anxiety.

BONE LOSS 

Vitamin D assists with the absorption of calcium, helping to build strong bones. It is imperative vitamin D levels are in optimal range to protect bone mass and reduce risk of fractures. 

HAIR LOSS IN FEMALES  

Štress is a common cause of hair loss.  However, when hair loss is severe it may be due to an autoimmune disease called alopecia or nutrient deficiencies, including vitamin D.  

MUSCLE PAIN 

Vitamin D receptors are present in nerve cells that sense pain and studies have shown a link between chronic pain and low blood levels of vitamin D. 

TEST AND TREATMENT FOR VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY 

The most accurate way to measure how much vitamin D is in your body is 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test.  A level less than 12 ng/mL indicates vitamin D deficiency, although a level less than 20 ng/mL is considered inadequate and often requires treatment.  

Treatment for vitamin D deficiency involves getting more vitamin D through diet AND supplementation.  

Guidelines from the Institute of Medicine increased the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin D to 600 international units (IU) for everyone ages 1-70, and raised it to 800 IU for adults older than age 70 to optimize bone health. The safe upper limit was also raised to 4,000 IU.   Therapeutic dosage may be prescribed containing more than 4,000 IU to correct a vitamin D deficiency, but blood levels must be monitored by your physician.

~Building Better Nutritiōn

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