Vitamin D plays a vital role in keeping you healthy and it’s very important to maintain healthy vitamin D levels. However, many people struggle with vitamin D deficiency without even realizing it. Low levels of vitamin D can lead to a wide range of symptoms, but it’s not always easy to diagnose this condition.
Read the article below to learn more about the effects of low vitamin D on your health and how you can prevent vitamin D deficiency.
What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a micronutrient that helps regulate the metabolism of calcium and phosphorus in our bodies. According to Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, calcium and phosphorus both play critical roles in bone building. Additionally, vitamin D can reduce the growth of cancerous cells, help keep infections under control, and reduce inflammation throughout your body.
There are two main forms of vitamin D: vitamin D2 (“ergocalciferol” or pre-vitamin D) and vitamin D3 (“cholecalciferol”). Your body is able to create its own vitamin D when you receive sunlight, which is why it’s also known as “the sunshine vitamin”. But you can develop vitamin D deficiency when you’re not getting enough of this vitamin, whether it’s through sunshine, foods, or supplements.
Average vitamin D levels
The most common blood test for vitamin D is called the 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood test. According to the National Institutes of Health, the following levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels are considered to be:
- Associated with vitamin D deficiency: < 12ng/mL
- Inadequate for healthy individuals: 12-20ng/mL
- Normal: > 20ng/mL
- Excessive: > 50ng/mL
Lack of vitamin D: Causes
The main cause of low vitamin D is living in an area that receives little sunlight. It’s not uncommon for senior adults to have routines with insufficient exposure to the sun. As we get older, our skin loses the ability to produce vitamin D as efficiently as it once did. According to MedlinePlus, causes of vitamin D deficiency also include:
- People with darker skin
- People with Crohn’s disease or celiac disease
- Breastfed babies
- People with chronic kidney or liver disease
- People who have had gastric bypass surgery
- People with hyperparathyroidism
- People who are overweight or obese
- Taking certain medications, such as glucocorticoids, antifungal treatments, and HIV/AIDS medicines
According to the Mayo Clinic, sunscreen can also decrease your vitamin D production. So while using sunscreen is still very important, you should aim to receive 10-30 minutes of midday sunlight at least a few times per week.
Lack of vitamin D: Symptoms
According to the MSD Manuals, the signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can include:
- Muscle aches
- Bone pain
- Mood changes
Side effects of low vitamin D
In addition to causing the symptoms that we described above, the long-term effects of low vitamin D can increase your risk of certain diseases.
Over time, low vitamin D can cause a loss of bone density, which can increase your risk of osteoporosis and fractures. Low vitamin D can also lead to hypocalcemia (low blood calcium) and hypophosphatemia (low blood phosphate), which are electrolyte imbalances that can cause a wide range of manifestations.
Low vitamin D in children causes rickets. According to the Cleveland Clinic, rickets is a disease that causes a child’s bones to become too soft. This can cause the bones to bend, warp, or break more easily.
How do you know if you have a vitamin D deficiency?
You’re more likely to have critical vitamin D levels if you live in an area that receives little sunshine, especially during the fall and winter months. In fact, public health officials in different locations recommend that everyone consider taking a vitamin D supplement during the colder months.
Your doctor could also order blood tests to check for a vitamin D deficiency if you’re showing symptoms of this condition.
Best foods for vitamin D
The best way to get your vitamin D levels back up is to make sure you get some direct sunlight everyday. Sunlight triggers the production of vitamin D by your own body without having to do anything else.
Vitamin D isn’t present in most foods in high quantities. However, some foods are fortified with additional vitamin D. According to the NHS, foods that contain vitamin D include:
- Oily fish
- Red meat
- Egg yolks
- Fortified foods (such as orange juice and cereals)
If you have signs of low vitamin D, you could also ask your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement. Most adults can cover their vitamin D requirements by taking a supplement that contains IU of vitamin D everyday. In some cases, patients with certain chronic diseases could benefit from taking higher doses of vitamin D.
However, it’s very important to discuss the right dosage with your doctor. Although rare, it’s possible to develop vitamin D toxicity if you take high doses of vitamin D for long periods of time. A daily vitamin D supplement that contains 1,000 to 2,000 IU per day will cover the nutritional requirements of most healthy adults.
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Vitamin D - hsph.harvard.edu
Vitamin D - ods.od.nih.gov
Vitamin D Deficiency - medlineplus.gov
Vitamin D - mayoclinic.org
Vitamin D Deficiency - msdmanuals.com
Rickets - my.clevelandclinic.org
Vitamin D - nhs.uk