Raise your hand if you have been told that you are vitamin D deficient! Never before have we heard so much talk about vitamin D, how important it is, and how many of us walk around with much less of it than we should have—seems like something we should’ve known a long time ago! But here we are, and here’s all you need about what I call the “sunshine vitamin.”
I call vitamin D the “sunshine vitamin” because our bodies typically produce it in response to sunlight. Why do we need vitamin D? Vitamin D has lots of benefits, most important being the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, two important nutrients to keep bones, teeth, and muscles healthy. Vitamin D also plays a critical role in promoting immune response; it is vital to the activation of immune system defenses that fight viruses and colds for the body.
You can ask your doctor—and you should be seeing your doctor regularly—if you have the amount of vitamin D that your body needs. They will test your vitamin D level through a simple blood test. If you have a deficiency, your doctor may order X-rays to check the strength of your bones, and will likely recommend you take daily vitamin D supplements.
If you have a severe deficiency, your doctor may instead recommend high-dose vitamin D tablets or liquids—but you should also make sure to get vitamin D through sunlight and the foods you eat. If you don’t have enough vitamin D, where can you get it? Vitamin D can be found in foods such as fish (salmon, sardines, herring, and mackerel), red meat, liver, egg yolks, and fortified foods (breakfast cereals and some other foods that are fortified with vitamin D).
What can happen if you don’t get enough vitamin D? You’re at risk of developing bone abnormalities such as soft bones or fragile bones. The good news is that vitamin D has been found to reduce your risk of multiple sclerosis, according to the Journal of American Medical Association. Research has also shown that vitamin D might play an important role in regulating mood and preventing depression. Did you know that vitamin D may be helpful if you are trying to lose weight? In a study, people who took daily calcium and vitamin D supplements lost more weight than subjects taking a placebo supplement—the scientists said the extra calcium and vitamin D had an appetite-suppressing effect.
So, how did your vitamin D levels get low in the first place? Many factors can affect your ability to get sufficient amounts of vitamin D through the sun alone. These factors include:
- Being of African descent (high levels of melanin makes it harder for vitamin D to be absorbed)
- Living in areas that experience winter (not as much sun the further you are from the equator)
- Living around big buildings that block the sun
What are the symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency? In adults they include:
- Fatigue, aches and pains, and not feeling well
- severe pain in the bone or muscle, weakness in the bone or muscle
- stress fractures in the legs
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that is needed by the body. If you are deficient you can boost your vitamin D levels by getting more sun exposure (don’t forget to wear your sunscreen), eating foods rich in vitamin D, and/or taking supplements. If you think you might be low in this essential nutrient, consult with your doctor to get your levels checked.