If you’re spending lots of time outside lately, you’re probably thinking that I’m crazy for writing about a vitamin D deficiency at this time of year. And you could be right, depending on your health and lifestyle. However, even those of us who spend a lot of time outside could be vitamin D deficient, and that, at least in my opinion, is why it needs to be pointed out now.
Why do we need vitamin D? Because it’s essential for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus vitamin D is vital to our bone and dental health. It supports a healthy immune system, and may support cardiovascular function. Vitamin D also improves the body’s absorption and metabolism of magnesium, phosphate and zinc.
Consistently getting enough vitamin D can significantly lower the risk for osteoporosis. Low vitamin D also is associated with falls, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. According to Cancer.gov, there’s also a possible association between vitamin D and cancer risk, particularly colorectal, breast, prostate, and pancreatic cancer.
While low vitamin D does not necessarily cause these conditions, and vitamin D supplementation may not prevent or treat them, information is always helpful.
Where do we get it from? When our skin is exposed to sunshine it can make vitamin D. We get the majority of our vitamin D from the sun. In lesser amounts, we can get vitamin D from foods such as fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, sardines, nearing and mackerel), fish oils, and eggs, as well as foods that are fortified with vitamin D. Often we see fortified milk, cheese, breakfast cereal, and orange juice. Vitamin D can also be obtained from supplements.
What’s the problem? Even with all the information we have about the importance of vitamin D, and how readily available it is to us, it’s been said that up to half of the world’s population may have a vitamin D deficiency.
Does that include you? Even if you do spend a lot of time outdoors, it may not be a sufficient amount for optimal health. Several factors can impact the amount of vitamin D your body absorbs, and you should know if you are at risk of a deficiency.
10 Reasons for a Vitamin D Deficiency
1. You tend to hibernate.
Do you stay indoors during the colder, darker winter months? If so, then we’re in the same boat, as this is a fault of mine too. Despite a willingness to stay indoors from January to April, we need to get outside every single day for exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D isn’t stored in the body from summer exposure to get us through those colder months when we’d prefer to stay inside.
2. You spend a lot of time on the toilet.
Yes, I just went there. It’s important to point out that people with weak stomachs (to put it nicely) and gastrointestinal issues such as Crohn’s disease tend to have a reduced vitamin D absorption and a potential for vitamin D deficiency. If this is you, perhaps you may want to have a chat with your doctor.
3. You live at high latitude.
That said latitude, not altitude. Those of us who live above the equator are more likely to be deficient in vitamin D. Studies have shown that people in the lower hemisphere have higher exposure to vitamin D. (I’m just guessing here, but maybe it has something to do with the gorgeous weather and multitude of beaches.)
4. You’re taking a steroid.
This goes not just for the gym rats but also for those taking prescription steroid medications. People taking oral steroids are twice as likely as the general population to have severe vitamin D deficiency. Talk to your doctor if you’re taking a steroid medication, about checking your vitamin D levels periodically.
5. You have a limited diet.
Eggs, fatty fish (such as swordfish, salmon and tuna), and fortified dairy are high in vitamin D. If you don’t get these foods in your diet, you may want to consider speaking with your healthcare provider about whether or not you should be taking a supplement.
6. You don’t eat mushrooms.
Nope, that wasn’t a joke. In addition to eggs, fatty fish, and fortified milk, researchers have found that eating mushrooms containing Vitamin D2 can be as effective at increasing and maintaining normal vitamin D levels as taking supplements. (I’m not an enormous fan of mushrooms so I use this powdered reishi mushroom in my smoothies. It has doe not have a strong flavor at all so it blends easily into the smoothies.)
7. You got your first period earlier than most of your friends.
Early bloomers, be warned. Low vitamin D levels have been linked with early menstruation, which, unfortunately, is a risk factor for other health problems for teen girls as well as women too.
8. You have a history of disease.
Vitamin D is crucial to activating our immune defenses. Without it, our T cells will not be able to react to and fight off serious infections in the body that lead to disease. Lower vitamin D levels are associated with increased risk of multiple sclerosis, prostate, colon, breast, lung, or bladder cancer, leukemia , dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, type 1 diabetes and heart disease.
9. You have darker skin.
As skin tans, it darkens to protect itself against harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. However, as the pigment darkens it also blocks vitamin D synthesis. People exposed to high levels of sunlight who have gorgeous tanned bodies may still be deficient in vitamin D.
10. You’ve broken several bones.
One of my friends is a dietitian, and one of her first pieces of advice to new clients, especially children, has nothing to do with their diet. She tells them to get outside and play. That’s because Vitamin D plays an important role in bone density, preventing rickets in children as well as osteomalacia and osteoporosis in adults.
Maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D is especially important for active individuals (and clumsy ones) to reduce the risk of stress fractures and other bone breaks.
If you’re worried about a potential vitamin D deficiency, what can you do?
If you suspect that you could be vitamin D deficient or that you may be at risk, speak to your healthcare provider. While your levels of vitamin D should not be too low, they shouldn’t be too high either. It is possible to ingest too much vitamin D, which can lead to other complications.
Now shut down your browser and go outside to play!
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