Have you been experiencing muscle weakness, fatigue, bone pain and mood swings? If so, you could have a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is classified as both a vitamin and a hormone. As a vitamin, it appears in fortified foods and in supplements. Once ingested, however, the vitamin is stored in your fat cells until it is ready to be used by your body. When your body is ready to use the vitamin, it activates the vitamin’s compounds, allowing it to act as a hormone that assists in the intestinal absorption of iron, magnesium, phosphate, calcium and zinc. It is through absorption that the body is able to perform a variety of functions that aid in your health, especially bone health. Therefore, vitamin D is essential to your well-being. If your body is not getting enough of it, complications like osteoporosis and rickets can arise. Read further to learn more about vitamin D, the signs and causes of vitamin D deficiency, and how you can boost your levels and improve your health.
Why is Vitamin D Important?
Vitamin D, when absorbed and activated by the body, has the ability to:
- Support immune function
- Decrease inflammation
- Reduce the risk of allergies, disease and infection
- Decrease the risk for dental cavities
- Regulate cholesterol and blood pressure levels
- Reduce your risk of developing certain cancers like breast, prostate, colon and pancreatic
- Increase cancer survival rates
- Slows tumor growth
- Aid in muscle contractions, including those involved with your heart and arteries
- Assist in respiratory function and brain development
- Reduce your risk of osteoporosis and rickets
- Prevent bone fractures and breaks
Because of the multiple roles this vital nutrient plays, it’s important that you make sure you are getting enough. There are several signs and symptoms that you might not be getting enough vitamin D.
Signs and Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency
There are a number of factors that can lead to vitamin D deficiency, like:
- Limited sun exposure
- Having dark skin (melanin reduces the skin’s ability to make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight)
- Kidney malfunction or disease
- Some lymphomas
- Digestive tract disorders
- Being obese
- Certain medications and medical conditions (e.g. HIV/AIDS)
Many of the early signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are vague, and are easily ignored or mistaken for something else. You should contact your physician if you experience any of the following:
- Muscle weakness – you can’t lift or carry as much as you used to
- Reduced endurance – you can’t exercise or perform other activities for as long as you used to
- Depression – a sadness that lingers for days, or weeks, with no apparent cause
- Sensitivity to pain – you could be more aware of pain, or some pain like menstrual cramps may seem more intense than before
- Irritability and mood swings – everything seems to bother you more than usual
- Daytime drowziness – feeling tired during the day, especially if you have had plenty of sleep the night before
- Bone pain – which could be a sign of stress fractures from low bone calcium
How to Get More Vitamin D
Think vitamin D can only be obtained through foods and supplements? Well, think again. When your skin is exposed (without sunblock or clothing) to the sun for approximately 15 minutes, your body naturally synthesizes the vitamin. Because fortified foods and sunlight may not be enough alone to provide you with the amount of vitamin D you need daily, you may have to combine your efforts—fortified foods, sunlight and supplements.
Aside from sunlight and supplements, vitamin D can be found in:
- Beef liver
- Some cheeses
- Egg yolks
- Fatty fish – including salmon, tuna and mackerel
- Mushrooms – check the packaging first
- Breakfast cereals
- Some orange juices, yogurt, margarine and soy beverages – check the labels first
How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?
The National Institutes of Health has recommendations on how much vitamin D you should take. Adults under the age of 70 get 600 international units (IUs) or 15 micrograms per day. Those over the age of 70 should have a daily allowance of 800 IUs or 20 micrograms.
Vitamin D Precautions
If you suspect you have a vitamin D deficiency you should contact your doctor and get tested before you start supplementing. Many of the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency could also be caused by other conditions. Also, it is possible to get too much vitamin D, which is just as bad as not getting enough. Unlike other nutrients, vitamin D is not excreted by the body. Rather, it is stored in the body’s fat cells, where it can accumulate over time. Overconsumption (25 micrograms or more per day) can lead to bone pain or bone loss, dehydration, the formation of calcium deposits, urinary tract stones, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, kidney failure, heart disease and other complications.
If the following pertains to you, you should not take vitamin D supplements without doctor supervision:
- Individuals with hyperparathyroidism, lymphoma, kidney disease, liver disease, granulomatous disease, or hormonal imbalances
- Individuals with high blood calcium levels
Certain medications can interfere with vitamin D absorption, and vitamin D can have dangerous side effects with other drugs. If you are on any medications, you should consult your doctor and a pharmacist to determine if the vitamin D will interact with your medication.