Did you know that Vitamin D isn’t actually a vitamin? It’s a steroid hormone that our bodies produce when we get enough sunshine. We can also get it from certain food sources or from supplements.
Whatever it is, getting enough Vitamin D is vital.
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to heart disease, breast, colon and prostate cancer, depression, weight gain and more. While doctors can’t say for sure that a lack of Vitamin D causes these conditions, it has been proven that people with higher levels of vitamin D have a lower risk of disease.
What Vitamin D Can Do For You
In addition to lowering your risk of illness, Vitamin D plays some very specific roles in the body such as:
- Contributing to the formation and preservation of strong and healthy bones
- Boosting the immune system and fighting infection
- Helping the muscles function
- Helping circulation and heart health
- Helping the lungs and brain develop and function
Vitamin D Deficiency is More Common than You’d Think
Surprisingly, Vitamin D deficiency is incredibly widespread in the US today. It shouldn’t be – we can get it from simply being out in the sun after all.
Despite that fact, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that 50% of children aged one to five, and 70% of those aged 6 to 11, have insufficient levels of vitamin D.
Teenagers and adults fare even worse. Research from 2009 calculates that around three-quarters are deficient.
Those at Risk of Vitamin D Deficiency
Certain categories of people are more at risk of developing Vitamin D deficiency than others. If you fall into one or more of the following categories, you should get your Vitamin D levels checked.
You’re Over 50 – as we age, our skin doesn’t make as much vitamin D from the sun. Our kidneys also convert less vitamin D into the form our bodies need it in.
You Have Dark Skin – because skin pigment acts as a natural sunscreen, the darker your skin, the more sun exposure you need. It’s estimated that African Americans need as much as 10 times the sun exposure of those with pale skin, to meet Vitamin D needs.
You’re Overweight or Obese – Vitamin D is fat-soluble, meaning the more body fat you have, the more Vitamin D you’ll need.
You have Digestive Issues – if you suffer from digestive problems that affect your intestines ability to absorb Vitamin D from your food, then you may be deficient. Examples of such diseases include Crohn’s, cystic fibrosis and Celiac disease.
Type of Climate – naturally, if you live in a climate with little or no sun, then your body won’t be able to make all the Vitamin D it needs from sunshine. In the US, only those living south of a line drawn from Los Angeles to Columbia, S.C., get enough sunlight to meet their year-round vitamin D needs.
Vegan or Vegetarian – if you don’t enjoy year round sunshine, then chances are you’ll find it difficult to meet your vitamin D needs on a strict vegetarian or vegan diet. This is because most dietary sources of Vitamin D come from animal based foods.
9 Warning Signs you are Vitamin D Deficient
Still worried you might be Vitamin D deficient? Here are some signs you should be watching out for:
Depression or Anxiety
Low levels of Vitamin D have been linked with depression and anxiety.
Researchers assessing healthy young adult women over the course of four weeks found that over one third had depressive symptoms, and almost half had Vitamin D insufficiency. In fact, the depressive symptoms were predicted by Vitamin D levels and even varied with the seasons.
It’s not just young people who feel down from a lack of this important vitamin – a deficiency is also associated with low mood and worse cognitive performance in older adults.
Vitamin D deficiency can affect other aspects of your brain and mental health too.
A 2014 study found that moderate-to-severe vitamin D deficiency can double the risk of some forms of dementia in older adults, including Alzheimer’s disease. Another study that same year found a strong association between schizophrenia and vitamin D deficiency.
The bottom line is, if you’re struggling with low moods or cognitive problems, then it can be a sign you’re lacking in Vitamin D.
According to Dr Michael Holick, a vitamin D expert at Boston University Medical Center, one of the lesser known signs of vitamin D deficiency is a sweaty head!
Excessive sweating in newborns is a common, early symptom of vitamin D deficiency.
If you find yourself perspiring more than normal, have it checked out.
Achy, Weak or Broken Bones
When it comes to bone health, the two most important nutrients are calcium and Vitamin D.
If you’re constantly getting achy bones (known as osteomalacia), fractures or breaks, then a Vitamin D deficiency might be to blame.
German researchers have discovered that Vitamin D deficiency increases both the start and spread of bone fractures by up to 31%.
Other research shows that a deficiency is a common risk factor for poor fracture healing.
By rectifying your Vitamin D deficiency, you’ll help your bones in two ways. Firstly, you’ll build stronger bones. Secondly, you’ll improve the function of your muscles, which in turn improves your balance and decreases the likelihood of falling and causing further fractures or breaks.
Acid Reflux, Bloating & Other Gut Problems
While the relationship between gut flora and Vitamin D isn’t fully understood, emerging evidence suggests that Vitamin D is important in maintaining a healthy balance within the gut.
In fact, Vitamin D affects the entire gastrointestinal tract, says Dr Stasha Gominak, a Vitamin D specialist.
She claims it can lead to acid reflux, poor stomach emptying, bloating and constipation, most likely caused by a loss of ‘friendly probiotic bacteria’ in our guts. Just like us, these bacteria need Vitamin D to survive.
If you can’t nod off despite following a perfect night time routine, filling your bedroom with plants to help you sleep and employing a whole host of natural sleep remedies, then it might be that you’re lacking in the sunshine vitamin.
Low Vitamin D levels can seriously mess up your sleeping pattern and cause sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, REM related apnea, unexplained awakenings and inappropriate body movements during sleep.
Researchers at Louisiana State University state that more than half of the patients who come to their sleep clinic with sleep problems and chronic pain are also deficient in Vitamin D.
The same researchers undertook an investigation into the relationship between Vitamin D and daytime sleepiness. Results showed a strong correlation between a lack of Vitamin D and an increase in excessive daytime sleepiness.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the most common sexual problem among men, affecting up to 30 million Americans.
While ED can be caused by other factors, Vitamin D deficiency shouldn’t be overlooked.
A 2014 study, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, found that men with severe erectile dysfunction had significantly lower vitamin D levels than men with mild erectile dysfunction.
If you have low thyroid function, you might be experiencing vitamin D deficiency.
But according to Chris Kresser, this might be the case even if your blood levels of vitamin D are normal.
A 2011 study, looking at Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and Vitamin D, found an overwhelming number of the 161 patients studies had a Vitamin D deficiency.
92% of them to be exact!
Besides supplementing with Vitamin D, here are some other ways to heal your thyroid problems naturally.
Since Vitamin D plays a vital role in a well-functioning immune system, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that frequent infections (cause by poor immunity) signal a lack of Vitamin D.
A study of Japanese school children looked at whether taking daily vitamin D supplements would prevent seasonal flu.
Nearly 340 children were assessed over four months during the height of the winter flu season. Those who took 1,200 IU of Vitamin D daily were 40% less likely to get sick than those who took the placebo supplement.
In fact, German researchers have found that Vitamin D increases your immune function by up to 5 times, while boosting your ability to fight off infections and viruses.
Diagnosed with anemia or lack of iron?
The Vitamin D Council cite a number of studies that link lower Vitamin D levels with a higher risk of anemia including:
- Pregnant women in Tanzania with low Vitamin D levels were compared to those with adequate Vitamin D levels. The women with low levels had a much higher risk of anemia.
- A study in Los Angeles found a link between Vitamin D deficiency and anemia.
- A US study compared people with and without anemia. Those with anemia were more likely to have low Vitamin D levels.
How to Get More Vitamin D
From the Sun
This is probably the easiest, and most enjoyable way to get enough Vitamin D. According to Dr. Holick, you should aim for about 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure to get your daily dose.
If you’re sunbathing before 10am or after 2pm, then you’ll need longer as UV rays are less intense outside of the peak sunlight hours.
You should be exposing at least 40% of your skin to the sun – not just your face and hands.
Although sunscreen reduces our risk of skin cancer, it also stops us getting enough Vitamin D. Sunscreen with an SPF of just 8 lowers your ability to produce the vitamin by 95%!
As mentioned above, if you’re not lucky enough to live in a sunny climate, you can’t rely on sunshine alone to meet your Vitamin D needs.
There are very few food sources of Vitamin D but it is found in:
- Egg yolk
- Fish and seafood
- Cod liver oil
- Fortified foods such as orange juice, cereals, yogurt, cow milk, goat milk, plant-based milks
Supplementing with Vitamin D is vital if you aren’t getting enough from the sun or food sources. Choose a high quality supplement and follow the dosage carefully.
How Much Vitamin D Do We Need?
You can get a blood test done to determine your blood levels of Vitamin D. When it comes to the sunshine vitamin, you want to be in the optimal range, as opposed to the ‘average’ or ‘normal’ range, as researchers are continually moving that range upwards!
If you’re already deficient, you’ll need to work with your doctor to determine how much Vitamin D you need, and from what sources should get it. The only way you can know for sure is to get tested.
Recommended Daily Intake of Vitamin D currently stands at 600 IU for men and women aged 19 to 70. Those aged 71 and older should be getting 800 IU. Nobody should be taking more than 4,000 IU per day from food sources or supplements.
Can You Get Too Much Vitamin D?
Too much of anything is bad, and Vitamin D is no exception.
Taking too much Vitamin D through food or supplementation can lead to Vitamin D toxicity – a rare but potentially serious condition.
However, it takes a huge amount of Vitamin D – 50,000 IU a day for several months – to lead to toxicity.
Although Vitamin D toxicity is uncommon, you may be at greater risk if you have liver or kidney conditions, or if you take thiazide-type diuretics.
The good news is that it’s not possible to overdose on vitamin D from the sun, as our bodies simply don’t allow it! Once Vitamin D levels reach a potentially toxic level, our skin stops producing any more.