Unfortunately, about 42% of the US population is vitamin D deficient. The latest research links vitamin D deficiency to mood swings, depression, lack of energy, chronic skin conditions, and other chronic diseases. You may be deficient if…
- You don’t get enough sunlight. Time spent with bare skin exposed to the sun used to be enough. However, most people spend the majority of their days inside and wisely use sunscreen. The shorter days of winter make it especially difficult for people to get enough vitamin D from the sun.
- You have poor nutrition habits and don’t take supplements. It’s very difficult to get enough vitamin D from the foods you eat alone.
- Your body needs more vitamin D than usual, for example if you’re older than age 65, premenopausal or take prescription medication long-term for heartburn, acid reflux and constipation.
What is vitamin D?
The term “vitamin D” refers to several different forms of this vitamin. Two forms are important in humans: vitamin D-2, which is made by plants, and vitamin D-3, which is made by human skin when exposed to sunlight. Foods may be fortified with vitamin D-2 or D-3.
The major role of vitamin D is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which forms and maintains strong bones. It is used alone or together with calcium to improve bone health and decrease fractures. Vitamin D may also protect against osteoporosis, high blood pressure, cancer, and other diseases.
Vitamin D is found in many foods, including fish, eggs, fortified milk, and cod liver oil. The sun also adds to the body’s daily production of vitamin D.
What are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency?
The symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are often vague but can include fatigue and general aches and pains. Part of the difficulty in detecting D deficiency is that most people won’t have any symptoms at all. Severe vitamin D deficiency might cause pain in your bones and weakness, or even frequent infections. If you suspect you might be deficient in D, see your physician, or have a blood test to check your vitamin D levels.
How can you increase your vitamin D levels?
Even though the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are subtle, there are many ways to prevent or counteract it.
- Sunlight encourages the body to make vitamin D. But because of the skin-cancer risk, many people are using sunscreens to block the harmful UV rays. However, a small amount of sun exposure without sunscreen can do the trick. Experts recommend no more than 30 minutes.
- Fortified milk can be a good source of vitamin D. Almost all types of cow’s milk in the U.S. are fortified with vitamin D. In general, an 8-ounce glass of milk contains at least 100 IUs of vitamin D, and a 6-ounce serving of yogurt contains 80 IUs, but the amount can be higher (or lower) depending on how much is added. Some soy and rice milks are fortified as well, but check the label since not all contain vitamin D.
- Supplements are an excellent choice for maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D. But be careful, not all supplements are the same. Look for a minimum of 800 IU per serving as well as one that includes the recommended D-3.