There are 3+ million cases of vitamin D deficiency – hypovitaminosis D diagnosed in the United States every year. Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin,” because your body naturally produces vitamin D when you are exposed to the sun’s rays. Getting your daily amount of vitamin D is also achievable through supplements and nutrition. Foods that are naturally full of vitamin D are fatty fish like tuna, salmon, and mackerel, cheese, and milk. However, these foods can have a fattening effect on the body. Certain other cereals, yogurts, orange juices, and soy products are also sometimes fortified with vitamin D.
Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency
For many people with a vitamin D deficiency, symptoms are very subtle if they are present at all. The following are some symptoms commonly associated with a vitamin D deficiency:
- Bone Pain
- Increased Blood Pressure
- Muscle Weakness
Getting enough vitamin D is essential for having strong bones because vitamin D helps your body use the calcium from your diet. Vitamin D deficiency has traditionally been associated with rickets. Rickets is a disease that causes your bone tissues to mineralize improperly, resulting in “soft bones” and skeletal deformities. In recent medical history, research is revealing the host of problems getting enough vitamin D protects from.
Moderate-to-severe vitamin D deficiency in older adults may double the risk for some forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. Men with severe erectile dysfunction have significantly lower vitamin D levels than men with mild erectile dysfunction. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to more severe cases of heart disease. Research shows that most (about 70%) of the patients that undergo coronary angiography (imaging to see how blood is flowing through your arteries) had a vitamin D deficiency. Studies have shown a link between low blood levels of vitamin D and aggressive prostate cancer. The studies only included European-American and African-American men. People who are deficient in vitamin D are twice as likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia as compared to people with healthy vitamin D levels.
Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency
The cause of vitamin D deficiency can happen for a number of reasons. Melanin reduces your skin’s ability to make vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure. Some studies reveal that older adults with darker skin have a higher risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency. If your kidneys aren’t functioning as well as they used to, they can’t convert vitamin D to its active form and increase your risk of vitamin D deficiency. If you don’t consume the recommended level of vitamin D over time, you could develop a vitamin D deficiency. This is likely if you follow a vegan diet since most natural sources of vitamin D (besides sunlight, of course) are animal-based (fish mean, fish oils, egg yolks, cheeses, milk, beef, liver). Because vitamin D is extracted from the blood by fat cells, the more fat you have (greater BMI), the more likely it is you will have low levels of vitamin D. Certain medical problems that affect your intestine’s ability to absorb vitamin D from food you eat can result in a deficiency. These diseases include Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and celiac disease. Your body makes vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight. If you are homebound, live in northern latitudes, wear long robes or head coverings, or have a job that prevents exposure to the sun you may be at risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency. Depending on your skin type and the time of year, you need only spend 10-30 minutes in the sun per day to get your daily amount of vitamin D.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Your doctor will perform what is called a 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test. This involves taking a sample of your blood and then sending it to a lab for further analysis. The treatment options for a vitamin D deficiency are pretty obvious: get more vitamin D in your system. However, the route you take in getting your vitamin D matters. Talk to your doctor about getting more vitamin D from the sun, from a balanced and nutritive diet, and from supplements if needed. Depending on your age, occupation, genetics, climate, and dietary preferences, the way you should get your vitamin D will be different.
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