Vitamins and minerals are essential to our health in many ways. Each of them works separately and in tandem with other vitamins and minerals to keep our bodies healthy and functionally optimally. Having sufficient status of each of these micronutrients is the difference between a person who is thriving versus one who is simply surviving. Unfortunately, there is one vitamin deficiency that up to 80% have, and it could be affecting their health. The nutrient in question in question is vitamin D. (1)
Vitamin D: The Vitamin Deficiency Up To 80% of People Have
Also known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is one that the majority of people in the United States and around the world struggle to get enough of. This vitamin deficiency is particularly rampant in colder-climate countries, in areas where people spend most of their time indoors, and in people with darker skin tones. This is because most of the vitamin D that people get in the day we get from the sun – but most of us don’t get enough sunlight. (1)
Vitamin D Is Different
Whereas most other vitamins we consume through diet, vitamin D is not one of them. Yes, you can get vitamin D in some food products, but the reality is that the majority of what we need comes from exposure to sunlight. Your body actually makes vitamin D from cholesterol that is exposed to UV light. (1) The vitamin acts more like a hormone than a vitamin, and nearly every single cell in your body has receptors for it. (2) Some major areas include (2):
- Immune function
- Bone health
- Overall well-being
Obviously, this is an essential vitamin. Despite this, it is still the most common vitamin deficiency worldwide.
Why Is This Vitamin Deficiency So Common?
According to a 2011 survey, the overall rate of vitamin D deficiency was 41.6%, with the highest rates shown in African-Americans (82.1%), followed by Hispanics (69.2%).
The reason why vitamin D deficiency is so common is that most of us simply aren’t exposed to enough sunlight every day. People who are at the greatest risk of deficiency include (1):
- The elderly
- Darker-skinned people
- Those who are overweight or obese
- People in more Northern or colder climates
- Those who wear sunscreen always
- Anyone who spends the majority of their time indoors
- People who don’t eat or eat very little fish or dairy products
Even people who live in sunny places are often deficient because most of our time is spent inside while we work. When we’re out, our skin is largely covered by clothing, or we wear sunscreen. Though important for preventing skin cancer, Sunscreen limits the amount of UV rays that contact the skin. In turn, vitamin D synthesis is limited. (1)
Signs You Are Vitamin D Deficient
As already mentioned, vitamin D plays a role in nearly every aspect of our health. If you are deficient, it will affect nearly every part of your body. However, most people don’t realize it because they’ve been deficient for so long that they either don’t realize how bad they feel, or they simply think the cause is something else. The following are all signs that you have an inadequate vitamin D status.
1. You’re Tired All The Time
Fatigue is a vague symptom in that it can indicate a variety of different deficiencies and illnesses, and vitamin D deficiency is most definitely one of them. Several studies have been done on vitamin D levels in the blood and chronic fatigue, and they all found a positive correlation. In brief: When you improve your vitamin D levels, you increase your overall energy levels. When you have more energy, you are better at work, less irritable, and in general, happier. (3)
2. You Get Sick A Lot
Vitamin D directly interacts with cells responsible for fighting off infection and illness. If you constantly get colds and flu, there’s a chance your vitamin D status is low. With supplementation, rates of respiratory infections, colds, and flu decrease significantly. (4)
3. Bone and Back Pain
Vitamin D is crucial in preventing weak bones and osteoporosis. This is partly because of its role in calcium absorption. There have been several studies done that have found a relationship between vitamin D status and lower back pain. (5, 6) Other places people with low levels of vitamin D experience pain include (7):
Bone loss, particularly in older women, is also strongly linked to vitamin D deficiency. Menopausal and post-menopausal women with low levels are at a much higher risk for developing osteoporosis and more fragile bones. (7, 8)
4. Poor Wound Healing
When vitamin D levels are low, wounds after injury or surgery heal much more slowly. This is partly because of the micronutrient’s role in fighting infection and inflammation control. Some research also shows that vitamin D is a key player in producing the compounds responsible for creating new skin cells. (9, 10)
Another nickname for vitamin D is the happy vitamin. This is because it is a mood-boosting vitamin. Though study results are mixed, some have found a correlation between rates of depression and low vitamin D status. (11)
Other Potential Problems
There have been some studies that link vitamin D deficiency with hair loss and muscle pain. However, the studies aren’t 100% conclusive, and more research needs to be done in these areas. The bottom line here is that lacking adequate vitamin D – which you likely do – affects your health in more ways than you realize. (12, 13)
How To Improve Your Vitamin D Status
The best way to have a proper vitamin D intake is by spending more time under the sun. Of course, this is tricky because too much time spent unprotected and exposed to UV light can be detrimental to your health. If you have fair-to-medium-toned skin, 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to the sun each day without sunscreen will suffice. If you are darker, you will need extra time. Typically, having your legs and arms exposed (aka wearing shorts and a t-shirt) is sufficient. (14)
Of course, in many places globally, getting your 10 to 15 minutes of exposure every day is next to impossible. You work indoors, for part of the year you arrive and leave work in the dark, and it is far too cold for shorts and t-shirts. On top of that, there are many places where the sun rarely makes an appearance for many of the winter months. (14)
If you can, increase your fish and vitamin D-enriched dairy consumption. If your dietary restrictions don’t allow for this (and even if they do), you will want to supplement with vitamin D3. This is the form most closely related to the one synthesize from sun exposure. The National Institute For Health recommends these amounts, depending on who you are, for how much of a vitamin D supplement you should take (14):
|0-12 months*||10 mcg(400 IU)||10 mcg(400 IU)|
|1–13 years||15 mcg(600 IU)||15 mcg(600 IU)|
|14–18 years||15 mcg(600 IU)||15 mcg(600 IU)||15 mcg(600 IU)||15 mcg(600 IU)|
|19–50 years||15 mcg(600 IU)||15 mcg(600 IU)||15 mcg(600 IU)||15 mcg(600 IU)|
|51–70 years||15 mcg(600 IU)||15 mcg(600 IU)|
|>70 years||20 mcg(800 IU)||20 mcg(800 IU)|
It is important to remember, however, that vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. This means that your body does have the ability to store it, and you can therefore reach potentially toxic levels. It is important to keep this in mind when supplementing. In general, it can be a good idea to take days off (say, only take your supplement Monday to Friday), and especially monitor yourself in the summer months when you are spending more time outside in the sun. (14)
Keep Reading: How to Fix Your Sleep Problems with Science
- “Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults.” Pub Med. Kimberly Y Z Forrest , Wendy L Stuhldreher. 2010.
- “Vitamins as hormones.” Pub Med. J Reichrath, et. February 2007.
- “Vitamin D deficiency and fatigue: an unusual presentation.” Pub Med. Kevin Johnson, Maryam Sattari. October 2015.
- “A review of the critical role of vitamin D in the functioning of the immune system and the clinical implications of vitamin D deficiency.” Pub Med. Gerry K Schwalfenberg. January 2011.
- “High prevalence of vitamin D deficiency, secondary hyperparathyroidism and generalized bone pain in Turkish immigrants in Germany: identification of risk factors.” Pub Med. M Z Erkal, et al. 2006.
- “High Prevalence of Hypovitaminosis D in Indian Chronic Low Back Patients.” Pub Med. Babita Ghai, et al. 2015.
- “Association of back pain with hypovitaminosis D in postmenopausal women with low bone mass.” Pub Med. Ariane Viana de Souza e Silva, et al. June 2013.
- “Low vitamin D, and bone mineral density with depressive symptoms burden in menopausal and postmenopausal women.” Pub Med. Abdulbari Bener, Najah M Saleh. 20015.
- “Synergistic effect of vitamin D and low concentration of transforming growth factor beta 1, a potential role in dermal wound healing.” Pub Med. Jie Ding, et al. 2016
- “Vitamin D deficiency is associated with inflammatory cytokine concentrations in patients with diabetic foot infection.” Pub Med. Shalbha Tiwari, et al. 2014.
- “The role of vitamin D in the prevention of late-life depression.” Pub Med. Olivia I Okereke, Ankura Singh. July 2016.
- “Serum ferritin and vitamin d in female hair loss: do they play a role?.” Pub Med. H Rasheed et al. 2013
- “Vitamin D and central hypersensitivity in patients with chronic pain.” Pub Med. Roland von Känel, et al. Spetember 2014.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.