Feeling under the weather all the time? Too tired to get out of bed and start your day? Suffering from terrible muscle aches and bone pains that never seem to settle? All these symptoms may force you to think about a hundred different health issues, yet the most common of them all is often over looked: vitamin D deficiency.
Famously known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is one of the most crucial compounds that your body needs to function. From building bone strength to fighting off coughs and colds, you need vitamin D to make it through your day-to-day activities. Despite the immense importance vitamin D has in our daily sustenance, over one billion people across the globe continue to suffer from a vitamin D deficiency, mostly due to a misdiagnosis and a lack of awareness. Due to the long-term difficulties that may arise as a consequence of this problem, it’s high time we educated ourselves about this vitamin deficiency and how it can be caught and managed in time.
This article aims to help you understand more about vitamin D deficiency, its symptoms, and how to tackle it in the most suitable ways.
What is Vitamin D and Why is it so Important?
Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins that your body needs to function properly. What makes it different from the rest of the vitamins is its dual function i.e. it acts like vitamin as well as a hormone. Multiple cells inside the human body bear receptors to which vitamin D attaches itself to modulate their activities.
Vitamin D is naturally produced inside the body from cholesterol. The process takes place in the process of sunlight; hence, it is also known as the sunshine vitamin. However, this endogenously produced vitamin D is usually not enough alone to fulfill the daily requirement of the body. So the experts often advise eating foods rich in this particular vitamin, including dairy products and fatty fish.
But why is vitamin D so important for health? For starters, it is crucial for the development of healthy teeth and bones. In children, a deficiency of this vitamin can lead to different bone problems and leg deformities. Moreover, vitamin D deficiency in adults has been linked to thinning of bones, a condition called osteoporosis. In addition to keeping your bones strong and healthy, maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D can also:
- Strengthen muscles
- Reduce the risk of falls
- Protect the body against certain types of cancers
- Boost energy levels
- Reduce the risk of low mood and depression
- Make the immune system strong and keep infections at bay
According to the Endocrine Society, most adults need 1500 to 2000 IUs of vitamin D on a daily basis for the proper functioning of the body.
Who is at a Risk of Developing Vitamin D Deficiency?
Vitamin D deficiency means that the current levels of this vitamin in your body are not enough to meet your daily needs. This might be because of one or more of the following three reasons:
#1 - Your body cannot make enough vitamin D
Many people suffer from a vitamin D deficiency because their body is unable to produce enough of it naturally. Most of these people are the ones who get very little to no sun exposure. This is especially true for people living in the northern parts of the world, such as the UK, where there is not enough sunlight round the year for the synthesis of this vitamin. Other people who may fall into this category include the following:
- People who stay indoors a lot, such as housebound people or hospitalized patients
- People who strictly cover up their bodies while stepping outside, not allowing sunlight to reach the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis
- Elderly people
- People with darker skin tones as they are naturally not able to make as much vitamin D as others
- People with certain health conditions, including celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, kidney disease, and certain types of liver issues.
- People with some defect in the vitamin D synthesis and/or absorption
- People taking certain medications, including primidone, phenytoin, carbamazepine, and medicines for HIV
#2 - Your body’s daily need for this vitamin has increased
Individuals under certain circumstances require extra vitamin D for the normal functioning of their bodies. When these increased needs cannot be met by a consequent increase in the endogenous and exogenous vitamin D levels, vitamin D deficiency can occur. These people include:
- Women who are breastfeeding
- Women who are pregnant as they require more vitamin D for themselves as well as the growing baby
#3 - You are not getting enough vitamin D from diet
Taking vitamin D through diet is equally important as spending enough time out in the sun. A diet lacking foods rich in this vitamin can lead to a deficiency as well. This is particularly seen in people following strict vegetarian or vegan diet plans as it usually lacks the two main sources of vitamin D: fish and dairy.
Vitamin D deficiency Symptoms
In many people, vitamin D deficiency goes unnoticed as it hardly produces any symptoms. However, some individuals suffering from this issue may report the following symptoms:
- Hair loss
- Bone pain
- Frequent muscle aches
- Getting frequent infections
- Increased fatigue
- Low mood
- Slow wound healing following an injury or surgery
In addition to this, a deficiency of vitamin D also makes the bones thin and weak which puts you at risk of frequent falls, getting illnesses or infections more often.
Managing Vitamin D Deficiency
Managing vitamin D deficiency is quite easy and fairly simple. In most cases, the doctor may prescribe one or more of the following remedies to replenish the levels of the sunshine vitamin in your body:
#1 - Spend more time in the sun
As mentioned before, sunshine plays an important role in the natural synthesis of vitamin D in the body. So try to spend around 15 to 20 minutes out in the sun three times a week. While you are bathing in the sun to give your body a vitamin D boost, keep in mind not to overdo it as inappropriate sun exposure can damage your body.
Make sure you get sun in short intervals instead of hours. Moreover, remember to use sunscreen on your exposed body parts to protect yourself from certain types of skin cancer. For more accurate guidelines according to your geographical area, consult your doctor.
#2 - Get more vitamin D from your diet
While you are spending time outdoors in hopes of boosting the natural vitamin D production in the body, don’t forget that you can also take it through food. For this purpose, try eating as much of the following foods as possible:
- Oily fish, like mackerel and salmon
- Beef liver
- Egg yolk
- Fortified breakfast cereals and juices
#3 - Take a supplement
As mentioned above, the body is capable of producing this sunshine vitamin on its own from cholesterol in the presence of sunlight. However, in many areas of the world, there is not enough sunshine to adequately meet the daily bodily requirement for this hormone. Hence, it is recommended to cover for the deficiencies by using a vitamin D supplement.
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Preventing Vitamin D Deficiency
Yes, it is entirely possible to prevent vitamin D deficiency if you start working on it in time. Some tips to make sure this problem does not hit you are mentioned below:
Maintain a healthy body weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is going to help you in every aspect of health. And while you are working on it, choose activities that require spending time outdoors in the sun, such as walking and cycling. This will give you an extra boost to cover up for any vitamin D deficiency that might be silently building up for some time.
Get treated for any underlying medical issues
People with certain medical issues that affect and decrease the absorption of nutrients and vitamins can increase the risk of developing vitamin D deficiency. To prevent this complication from developing, get in touch with your doctor and start working on managing these diseases as soon as possible.
If you have a family history of vitamin D deficiency or other related complications such as osteoporosis, you might be at risk as well. Speak to a doctor and express any concerns that you may have. Together, you can come up with a plan to minimize your risk of developing similar problems in the future.
Vitamin D deficiency is more common than it looks, with millions of people suffering from it in complete silence and ignorance. This is because the symptoms of this issue are mostly subtle and easy to miss. But once diagnosed, the outlook of this problem is excellent with a high response to treatment. The best ways to improve your vitamin D levels are spending more time in the sun, eating vitamin D-rich foods, and enjoying delicious vitamin D gummies every day after consultation with a doctor.