Also called the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, strong muscles and a stable immune system. Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency is common in the United States. Here’s what you need know about vitamin D.
Why is Vitamin D Important?
Despite what its name implies, this isn’t your typical vitamin. It’s actually a hormone that comes from sun exposure, foods or supplements. Just about every cell in your body has vitamin D receptors.
But the main reason this vitamin is so important is that your body needs it to properly absorb calcium, which helps promote bone growth. In fact, the lack of vitamin D is associated with:
- Soft bones in children
- Loss of muscle strength
- Increased colds and infections
- Increased risk of certain cancers
- Higher blood pressure levels
- Increased risk of autoimmune diseases
- Increased development of certain neurological disorders
- Increased development of diabetes
How Common is Vitamin D Deficiency?
According to research, about 75% of U.S teens and adults are vitamin D deficient. It has also been reported by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey that 50% of children ages 1 through 5, and 70% of children between 6 and 11 are also deficient.
Vitamin D deficiency is also more common in those who always wear sunscreen, as it blocks out the vitamin D production, as well as in those who limit their outdoor activities. Those with darker skin pigmentation are also more at risk, as are those who are 50 or older, and those who are overweight (vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, and those with a higher percentage of body fat need more of it to obtain optimum levels).
Signs of Vitamin D Deficiency
Though the only way to be certain you are deficient in D vitamins is through blood testing, there are some signs that could indicate a deficiency. Among them are:
You’re feeling down. Serotonin, the hormone associated with mood, increases with exposure to sunlight. Scientists have estimated that those with lower levels of vitamin D are more prone to depression.
Your bones hurt. Since vitamin D is associated with calcium and bone health, symptoms like joint aches and other pains are commonly associated with vitamin D deficiency.
Your head sweats. One up the most common signs of vitamin D deficiency is a sweaty head. In fact, many physicians look for head sweating in newborns as a sign of a vitamin D deficiency.
You have gut issues. Chronic gut conditions like celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, IBS and Crohn’s disease could be indications of a vitamin D deficiency. Since vitamin D needs to be absorbed by the body, these gastrointestinal conditions that affect your body’s ability to absorb nutrients could interfere with your ability to absorb vitamin D as well.
How Much Vitamin D Do I Need?
Do an online search and you are likely to get a bunch of different answers for this question.
The first, and best, way to get adequate amounts of the sunshine vitamin is to get enough sunlight. I’m talking bare skin, exposed to direct sunlight. Sunlight through a window does not count, as it can block out the necessary UV rays.
And it doesn’t have to take long. You shouldn’t stay out in the sun until you burn. In fact, about half the time it takes for your skin to start turning pink is fine. This could be as short as 15 minutes for some people (like me … I burn quickly!). But, keep in mind that someone with darker skin, who is less prone to sunburn, may need to stay in the sun a bit longer.
The time of day and where you live also affects how long you should expose your skin to sunlight. If you go out in the middle of the day when the sun is directly overhead and at its strongest, you can shorten your exposure. If you live closer to the equator, you have an easier chance of getting vitamin D from the sun all year round.
Now let’s talk about supplements.
Food just doesn’t give enough D vitamins. If you can’t get adequate sunlight exposure, your other option is supplementation.
The general consensus from the Food and Nutrition Board is 400 IU a day for infants, 600 IU for children and adults.
However, if you check with the Vitamin D Council, their recommendation is 1,000 IU a day for infants and children, and 5,000 IU a day for adults.
I think your best bet is to … you got it … ask your doctor. Taking in personal considerations like skin color, how much time you spend outdoors, weight or any current illness can also make a difference in how much vitamin D you personally need.