What You Need to Know about Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D is known as essential for strong bones, but that’s not all. Research shows that vitamin D offers protection against a host of health problems. Unfortunately, it’s fairly easy to become deficient in this important vitamin. Individuals at risk of vitamin D deficiency include those who don’t spend much time in the sun, who are allergic to milk, and who are vegans. That’s because vitamin D is produced by the body in response to sunlight’s exposure to the skin, and can also be obtained through eating certain foods such as egg yolks and some fish.
If you have too little vitamin D, you may not have any symptoms at all, or you may experience bone pain and muscle weakness. Low levels of vitamin D have also been associated with cardiovascular disease, asthma in children, certain cancers, and, in older adults, cognitive impairment. Keeping your vitamin D at a healthy level may also help to prevent hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and glucose intolerance, to name just a few of its benefits.
Some of the reasons you may become vitamin D deficient include:
- You follow a strict vegan diet (most of the natural sources of vitamin D are animal-based)
- Your sunlight exposure is limited (because you work indoors, for example, or because you usually wear clothing that covers your skin from head to toe)
- Your skin is dark (melanin reduces your skin’s ability to make vitamin D even when you get plenty of sunshine)
- You are very overweight (obese individuals have a higher instance of vitamin D deficiency)
- Your digestive system is compromised (Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and cystic fibrosis can affect the ability of your intestines to absorb vitamin D)
Screening for vitamin D is completed via a simple blood test, and treatment is easy. Most people are able to increase their vitamin D to optimal levels by changing their diets, taking supplements, and/or spending more time in the sun. If you have risk factors for vitamin D deficiency or symptoms that might be explained by low vitamin D levels, ask your doctor about testing and treatment options. This is a common and highly treatable problem that can make a big difference to your overall health.