Written by: Christina Vestey
It’s estimated that at least 50% of the global population doesn’t get enough Viatmain D. Which can lead to all sorts of avoidable health complications. Vitamin D’s plays quite an extensive role in keeping our body functioning optimally. It supports essential functions like immunity and cancer prevention and helps maintain neurological, heart, and bone health. The good news is, we can achieve the optimum levels naturally and if not, supplements are a simple and effective solution.
Who is at risk?
The reality is most adults are deficient. Perhaps more importantly, Vitamin D responds to melanin levels in the body. Which means that those of us with darker skin take longer for it to absorb and so are more prone to having a deficiency. Being overweight also makes it harder for the body to absorb Vitamin D. Shift workers, health care workers and those who spend a lot of their day working indoors are also at a higher risk.
Health risks of being vitamin D deficiency
- Weakened bones — A deficiency in vitamin D can cause osteomalacia, which is the softening of the bones. Which can lead to rickets which causes bone abnormalities. Additionally, a deficiency increases your risk for developing osteoporosis and experiencing fractures or broken bones.
- Low levels weaken our immunity against viruses and infections including those that affect the lungs and respiratory system.
- Mood disorders —Vitamin D acts like a hormone in our bodies affecting brain function. A deficiency has been linked to an increased risk for disorders such as depression, SAD (seasonal affective disorder), and heightened PMS, insomnia and anxiety.
- Hormone imbalances — Low levels can interfere with proper testosterone and estrogen production.
- Cognitive/mental health problems — Research indicates that people with lower levels of Vitamin D perform poorly on standardized exams and have difficulty with tasks that require focus and attention. Some research has revealed a link between vitamin D deficiency and an increased risk for developing schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis.
- Increases risk of some cancers — Vitamin D deficiency symptoms have been linked especially with breast, colon and prostate cancers. According to research vitamin D contributes to factors that influence tumor growth, cell differentiation and apoptosis. It is thought that vitamin D’s role in the life cycle of cells and its ability to block excess estrogen can affect the risk of breast, colon and ovarian cancers.
So what are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency?
Whilst it can be hard to immediately know if you are Vitamin D deficient, if you have one or more of these symptoms it is advisable to get tested for vitamin D deficiency:
- Chronic fatigue
- Trouble sleeping
- Weak or broken bones
- Weakened immune system
- Inflammation and swelling
If you are suffering from the following conditions, it is advisable to get tested as getting your vitamin D levels to the right level could improve aspects of your condition. Just to give you an example studies have shown that Vitamin D supplementation can improve muscle strength and reduce fall frequency by approximately 50%.
- Heart disease and high blood pressure
- Autoimmune diseases
- Depression and mood disturbances
- Poor skin health, including redness, inflammation and dryness
- Arthritis and joint pain
- Trouble concentrating
- Hair loss
- Multiple sclerosis
- Chronic muscle or bone pain
So how do we get enough Vitamin D whether its summer or winter?
In sunny climates, it’s an easier task as sun exposure is the simplest way to get enough vitamin D. The challenge is that sunscreens prevent the body from absorbing 99% of vitamin D. This does not mean you go out in the midday sun to get your dose of Vitamin D and run the risk of getting skin cancer. The general guideline would be 10-20 minutes a day depending on where you are living. Sunnier climates require less time. A suggested guideline to know that the sun is creating vitamin D in your body is to look at your shadow and see that it’s shorter than you are. This tells you that the sun is high enough in the sky and strong enough to convert vitamin D.
When winter hits, particularly in northern countries where it can be grey for days on end it’s more of a challenge to get adequate vitamin D naturally. Foods like fatty fishes, including salmon and tuna, egg yolk and cod liver oil are high in vitamin D. For the vegans among us a good source are mushrooms, spinach and soybeans.
Some foods are fortified with vitamin D which you can see on the packaging. If you feel your food sources aren’t providing you with enough vitamin D, check with your health provider about taking a supplement. Particularly in the winter months. If you are curious as to whether you might be Vitamin D deficient a simple blood test will tell you. If you are deficient, there are plenty of ways to build up and maintain the necessary levels to keep your body functioning optimally.