During the winter months, many of us do not get enough vitamin D because one of the best sources of this important vitamin is the sun.
Fair-skinned people should expose themselves to the sun for 10 to 15 minutes a day without protection, in order to increase their vitamin D levels. Those who tan easily can reach high vitamin D levels and can go up to 30 minutes. Finally, dark-skinned people can tolerate two hours. In smaller amounts, vitamin D is found in certain foods, such as fatty fish, fortified breakfast cereals, and mushrooms.
Healthy, non-pregnant adults under the age of 71 need at least 15 micrograms (mcg), which is equivalent to 600 IU of vitamin D daily, through fortified foods, exposure to sun or, if necessary, supplementation. Dosage recommendations may vary based on factors such as age and stage of life. If you’re not getting enough vitamin D through sunlight, your daily intake should be closer to 1,000 international units (IU) or 25 mcg per day.
Vitamin D deficiency and health problems
Studies to determine whether taking vitamin D supplements reduces the risk of certain diseases or conditions are lacking. Many studies have shown an association, but not a causal relationship, between people with specific diseases and vitamin D deficiency. What scientists are sure about, however, is that when the deficiency vitamin D is there, the risk of bone diseases such as rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults increases. 1
Below are examples of associations between low vitamin D and specific diseases:
Low vitamin D levels have been linked to depression, according to previous research involving more than 31,000 participants. This could be because vitamin D and its receptors are found in areas of the brain involved in mood and behavior. Vitamin D plays an important role in healthy brain function. For people with mild to moderate depression, vitamin D supplementation may help, although more studies are needed before vitamin D supplement prescriptions for depression are standardized.
A meta-analysis published in November 2019 in BMC Neurology found a link between vitamin D deficiency and people with dementia, including the most common type of this condition, Alzheimer’s disease. The more severe the deficiency, the stronger the association.
3 Prostate cancer
Another previous study found a link between low blood levels of vitamin D and aggressive prostate cancer in men undergoing their first prostate biopsy after being referred for a prostate-specific antigen or an abnormal rectal examination.
4 Erectile dysfunction
A systematic review and meta-analysis published in May 2020 in Nutrients found that men with severe erectile dysfunction had lower vitamin D levels than men with mild ED.
People with schizophrenia are more likely to have vitamin D deficiency, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis published in June 2020 in Psychiatry Research. This could be due to the role that vitamin D plays on the body’s inflammatory and immune responses, according to an earlier review.
Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency
But how do you know if you have a vitamin D deficiency? The best way is to take a simple blood test, which your GP can perform. Ideally, your vitamin D level should be around 20 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). That said, certain symptoms may indicate that your vitamin D levels are too low. Here are five signs to watch out for:
Feeling tired and lethargic is probably the most common sign of vitamin D deficiency. A previous study has suggested that there is a significant correlation between daytime sleepiness and low vitamin D levels. Vitamin D supplements could help reverse the trend. Another earlier study in people with fatigue and vitamin D deficiency found that vitamin D treatment improved participants’ subjective fatigue rating scale compared to the placebo group.
2. Bone fractures and stress fractures
Bone fractures that don’t heal quickly are another sign of vitamin D deficiency. This is because one of vitamin D’s essential roles is to help the body absorb calcium, which contributes to healthy bones. , according to the NIH. Research indicates that adequate levels of vitamin D and calcium can promote bone health and help prevent osteoporosis. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, published August 2020 in Medicine, found that vitamin D (specifically vitamin D3) and calcium supplementation reduced the incidence of falls and fractures in participants in the ‘study. People tend to stop building bone mass around the age of 30, so adequate vitamin D intake is important to keep bones healthy as you age.
3. Low immunity
Another important function of vitamin D is to maintain adequate and proper functioning of the immune system.
Some studies have linked low vitamin D levels to an increased risk of infection. Before antibiotics were available, vitamin D was used to treat infections like tuberculosis. Thus, a systematic review and meta-analysis published in February 2017 in the BMJ found that vitamin D supplementation reduced the risk of acute respiratory tract infection in participants. People with the greatest vitamin D deficiency (less than 25 nmol/L at baseline) who supplemented at least once a week or daily reduced their risk of respiratory infection by 50% compared to participants whose level of vitamin D was 25 nmol/L or more.
If you seem to catch every cold, flu, and virus that comes your way, you may have a vitamin D deficiency and need to discuss this with your doctor. He can test your vitamin D levels and evaluate you for other potential causes that could be hampering your immune function.
4. Muscle aches and pains
In some cases, vitamin D deficiency can cause muscle aches and body aches. As mentioned, a vitamin D status test can determine if this vitamin deficiency is causing these symptoms. If so, your doctor may recommend a vitamin D supplement, which a June 2018 article in Bone Reports noted may help reduce muscle soreness. In other research, a July 2018 review published in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgery also found that vitamin D supplementation can increase muscle strength in people who are deficient.
5. Hair loss
Alopecia, or hair loss, is also linked to low vitamin D. A past study noted a correlation between low vitamin D levels and female-pattern hair loss, which affects more than 55% women over 70. Another study, published in March 2019 in Dermatology and Therapy, pointed to this link but suggested that more research is needed to determine whether vitamin D supplementation can prevent hair loss.
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