Vitamin D deficiency and supplementation has been in the news a lot recently and for good reason. Studies are now showing that Vitamin D deficiency is more serious than we thought and that Vitamin D supplementation can help people avoid or mitigate many diseases and chronic conditions.

Why is Vitamin D important?

Vitamin D deficiency can cause rickets, a failure of the bones to properly develop in children and osteomalacia, that causes weak bones and muscles.

Scientists are studying the link between insufficient levels of Vitamin D in other diseases and conditions including:

  • Depression
  • Chronic  pain
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • And an increase in death rates for any cause.

Where can you get Vitamin D?

Our bodies can naturally produce Vitamin D from the sun’s UV-B rays, however there are several factors that prevent many people from getting adequate D from sun exposure.

People are more likely to use sunscreen and to be indoors during the middle of the day when the sun’s rays are strongest. Additionally, those with darker skin tones have more difficulty producing D from sunshine. Those who live in climates where the sun is very limited during the winter months might also find themselves Vitamin D deficient.

Many doctors now recommend that you expose your arms and legs to the sun for 15-20 minutes a day to help your body make the Vitamin D that it needs. You  can still protect your face with sunscreen and a hat.

There are many food sources of Vitamin D, including milk and dairy products that have been enriched, however most fall short of the 2,000 IU daily that many experts are now recommending for adults.  However, many are still nutritious and provide other nutrients that support good health and may aid Vitamin D’s work in your body, so including them in your diet is a good idea.

Foods that contain Vitamin D

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Tuna
  • Fortified Milk, Orange Juice, Yogurt and Cereals
  • Sardines
  • Eggs

Vitamin D Supplements

If you have low Vitamin D levels and can’t bring them up with sun exposure and diet, Vitamin D supplementation is available. Talk to your doctor to find out the recommended dose and brands that are reliable.

It is possible to overdose on Vitamin D as it accumulates in the fat cells over time. Daily doses of up to 10,000 IU are known to be free of side effects that produce toxicity, however it is always wise to consult with your physician before taking mega doses of any supplement.

Who is at risk for Vitamin D deficiency?

While nobody is immune from D deficiency, certain people are at higher risk, to include:

  • Breastfed infants. Talk to your pediatrician about supplementation especially if your child has darker skin.
  • People with dark skin. Darker skin tones are less able to absorb the sun’s rays.
  • Older people. As the skin ages, it is less able to convert sunlight into Vitamin D.
  • People living in climates with limited sunlight or whose occupations keep them out of the sun or the homebound
  • People with certain fat malabsorbtion disorders.
  • The obese and those who have undergone gastric bypass.

How can I tell if I have a Vitamin D Deficiency?

Your physician can give you a blood test called the 25-Hydroxy Vitamin D. This test can measure the amount of Vitamin D circulating in your blood and let you know if supplementation is warranted.

This test is not routinely given so ask your doctor about it at your next visit especially if you have any risk factors for either D deficiency or the diseases and conditions that have been linked to low levels of Vitamin D.

Other Benefits of Vitamin D

Much research is being done on the role of Vitamin D in helping our bodies avoid disease.  It is possible that high levels of Vitamin D can:

  • Reduce the risk of cancer
  • Improve cancer survival rates
  • Reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease
  • Provide greater resistance to viruses including those that cause the flu and common cold.

We are only beginning to learn of how Vitamin D works in our bodies and the role it plays in our long term health and wellness. Follow the tips in the article to make sure that you are getting plenty of D and be sure to ask your doctor about having your blood levels tested and if supplementation is right for you.