Do you know how important vitamins are to your health? The word "vitamin" literally means "vital organic compound"--it couldn't be any clearer than that!
Vitamins A, C, and E may be the "glamor vitamins" due to their immune-boosting, eye-protecting, heart-smart properties, but they're not the only vitamins your body needs. There are all the B vitamins, Vitamin K, and last but not least, Vitamin D.
Vitamin D plays a lot of central roles in your body:
- It helps your body absorb calcium and strengthen your bones
- It helps to fight disease like MS, heart disease, and flu
- It plays a role in weight loss
- It enhances your mood and combats depression
- It can reduce your risk of prostate cancer, breast cancer, and other forms of cancer
- And the list goes on…
Like all vitamins, Vitamin D is essential for a healthy body. If you don't get enough of it, you'll start to notice the symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency.
Oddly enough, Vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common of the vitamin deficiencies, particularly in the United States. It's estimated that up to 50% of the U.S. population isn't getting enough Vitamin D. Most of us think the fact that we consume Vitamin D-enriched dairy products means we're getting enough Vitamin D, but boy is we wrong! The Vitamin D in dairy products is difficult for our bodies to absorb, meaning we get far less of it than we think.
But even if you drink a whole carton of Vitamin D-enriched milk, you're still not going to have enough of this vitamin. Heck, you may be vitamin D deficient right now and not even know it. Below, we'll look at the signs of Vitamin D deficiency, the causes, and, best of all, how you can deal with the problem once and for all. By the time you reach the end of this page, you'll know how always to have enough Vitamin D in your life!
Signs You're Vitamin D Deficient
Not sure if you're getting enough Vitamin D? Here are a few ways your body tells you "GIVE ME MORE VITAMIN D!!!":
Excessive Sweating -- Sweating is just a normal part of life for most people. When the heat is high, or you move around a lot, you're bound to sweat. It's your body's ways of cooling off when the temperature (external or internal) rises.
But what if you sweat a lot even when you aren't moving around? You may find that your forehead is constantly sweaty, even if you're sitting down or lying in bed. If you feel sweaty, and you haven't done exercise in the last few hours, it may be a good idea to check your temperature. Excessive sweating and higher temperature (around 98.6) in a cooler environment are a sign you may be Vitamin D deficient.
This doesn't just go for adults, but for kids too. If you notice that your newborn, toddler, or young child is sweating a lot, it's a sign they need to get more Vitamin D.
Intestinal Trouble -- Has your digestive tract been giving you trouble for a few days, weeks, or months? If you've been dealing with digestive problems (such as IBS, Crohn's disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or inflammatory bowel disease), your body may not be getting enough Vitamin D from the food you eat.
You see, Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it is digested along with the fat present in your intestines. If your body is having trouble digesting fat, it will also be struggling with Vitamin D. Vitamin D (and another vitamin) deficiencies often accompany digestive troubles.
Muscle Weakness -- We've all had those days when our bodies just feel too tired to roll out of bed, lift another heavy weight, or run another mile. There is a certain amount of exhaustion and fatigue expected from our daily life and activities, but sometimes the weakness goes beyond the "normal" range. If you feel overly exhausted or suffer from unexplained muscle weakness, you may have a Vitamin D deficiency.
You see, Vitamin D is vital for keeping your muscles powered up and working well. Without enough Vitamin D, you may suffer from bouts of unexplained muscle weakness. This becomes even more common in those over 60, which explains a lot of the injuries sustained by the elderly.
But the weakness doesn't stop there! In fact, Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to a decrease in your endurance and stamina, even if you're a strong, active athlete. If you don't get enough Vitamin D, your aerobic capacity may decrease, and you'll be unable to push yourself to train harder and longer.
Mood Issues -- Vitamin D plays a role in the production of serotonin, the neurochemical that regulates your mood. When you have enough serotonin, you feel happy and content. Not enough serotonin, and your mood plummets!
A Vitamin D deficiency is often linked to depression, irritability, crankiness, and other mood problems. In fact, many doctors diagnosing depression will often look for Vitamin D deficiencies, as the two problems are closely linked.
Fun Fact: Sunlight doesn't just cause your body to produce more Vitamin D, but it also increases serotonin production.
If you're feeling "blue" all the time, it may be time to consider your Vitamin D intake. Those who get less than enough of this vitamin in their lives are at a much higher risk of emotional and mood fluctuations.
Pain -- Did you know that a Vitamin D deficiency can lead to pains and aches in not just your bones, but also your muscles and joints? Bone aches (known as osteomalacia) are a common side effect of Vitamin D deficiencies, but you may find that the muscle weakness may extend to muscle pain. Chronic pain and greater pain sensitivity are also signs you may be Vitamin D deficient.
In a surprising number of cases of muscle, joint, and bone pain, arthritis and fibromyalgia may not be the ones to blame for the aching. A lack of Vitamin D may be behind it! Thankfully, this is one pain you CAN figure out how to cure easily--all you need is more Vitamin D.
Bone Fractures -- Remember how Vitamin D plays a role in the absorption of calcium, the nutrient your body needs to have strong, healthy bones? When you don't get enough Vitamin D, your body is unable to absorb calcium. After the age of 30, your bone mass begins to decrease, and only regular mineral consumption will keep your bones strong and healthy. But if you're not getting enough of the Vitamin D needed to absorb calcium, the result will be weaker bones.
When weakened, mineral-deficient bones meets excessive weight or physical trauma, the bone is always going to be the loser. People with Vitamin D deficiencies often suffer from bone fractures. Major fractures may be caused by exercise, falls, or impact, but even your daily activities can cause stress fractures in weakened bones.
High Blood Pressure -- Vitamins C and E aren't the only heart-smart vitamins! Vitamin D plays a role in your heart health, particularly regarding your blood pressure. If you don't get enough of this important vitamin, you may end up with high blood pressure or even hypertension.
Fatigue -- Remember the muscle weakness and reduced endurance? That's not as bad as it gets! With a Vitamin D deficiency, you may find yourself feeling sleepier during the day. A lack of Vitamin D has been linked to excessive daytime drowsiness. This may make driving, working, and caring for your family harder.
Some pretty serious signs you're Vitamin D deficient, right? Your body doesn't mess around, but it sends clear signals that you NEED MORE Vitamin D!!!!
Causes and Risk Factors of Vitamin D Deficiency
We've learned how to tell when your body needs more Vitamin D, but what causes the vitamin deficiency in the first place? Why are YOU suffering from Vitamin D deficiency symptoms while your friends or family aren't?
There are some things that can cause a lack of Vitamin D:
- Pollution -- If there is a lot of pollution in the air (think Shanghai-level air pollution), you may get very little direct sunlight. Sunlight is the main source of Vitamin D, but if the air pollution blocks the light, you can't produce enough of this important vitamin.
- Excessive Indoor Time -- Gamers, shut-ins, and office drones all have one thing in common: they don't spend enough time outside. You need at least 30 minutes of exposure to direct sunlight per day, else your body can't produce enough Vitamin D. Too much time spent indoors can lead to a Vitamin D deficiency.
- Sunscreen -- Odd, isn't it? Sunscreen will protect your skin from UV radiation, but using it all the time can lead to a Vitamin D deficiency. You need to get at least half an hour of sunscreen-free time in the sun to get all the Vitamin D your body needs.
- Big Buildings -- The buildings themselves won't cause the vitamin deficiencies, but they will block the sunlight. Residents of big cities like New York and Chicago often get less time in the sun thanks to the skyscrapers that cast shadows all around.
Of course, in addition to these causes, there are always the risk factors that increase your chances of a Vitamin D deficiency:
- Dark skin -- Yes, dark skin can stop your body from producing Vitamin D. A person with pale skin will produce about 10 times as much Vitamin D from sunlight as a person with dark skin, so those with darker shades of the skin may need to spend MORE time in the sunlight.
- Age -- Once you reach your 40s and 50s, your skin becomes less efficient at producing Vitamin D from the time you spend in the sun. Your kidneys are also less efficient at turning Vitamin D into a form your body can use. Also, older adults tend to spend more time indoors and out of direct sunlight. This combination is one reason that older adults often suffer Vitamin D deficiencies.
- Obesity -- Obesity is a risk factor in just about EVERY health problem out there, and it's no different when it comes to Vitamin D deficiencies. If you have excessive body fat, the fat cells will collect the fat-soluble Vitamin D before your body can use it. Those with a high body mass need more Vitamin D than those with less body fat. Those with big, bulky muscles also need more Vitamin D than leaner, sleeker people.
How to Get More Vitamin D
Now you know what causes a lack of Vitamin D in your life, so how can you correct the problem? How can you make sure you get all the Vitamin D you need?
Eat Right -- There are plenty of foods that will deliver Vitamin D;
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
- Fatty fish
- Fortified dairy products
- Fortified cereals
- Fortified juices
These foods are all good dietary sources of Vitamin D, so they make a worthy addition to your diet.
However, be warned: your body has a hard time absorbing the Vitamin D from these foods. If you want to get a source of Vitamin D, your body can actually use…
Spend More Time in the Sun -- That's right, time spent exposed to direct sunlight (sans sunscreen) will ensure your skin produces all the Vitamin D your body needs. Make it a point to spend at least 30 minutes in the sun every day (perhaps a bit less in the summer), and you'll find Vitamin D deficiencies are a thing of the past!