Vitamin D is a powerful nutrient that impacts several organ systems in the human body, including the skeletal, cardiovascular and immune systems. Unlike any other Vitamin, Vitamin D functions like hormones and has receptors in every human cell. So, it is critical for bone, muscular and mental/ emotional health.
The best part about this Vitamin is that it is naturally synthesized by the body on sun exposure. When there is a lack of sun exposure over long periods, the chances of you developing a deficiency of this Vitamin is high. To avoid health issues arising from its insufficiency, you can take Vitamin D Supplements as directed by a medical professional.
Why Should You Be Concerned About your Vitamin D Levels?
Vitamin D deficiency is considered a global public health concern, a silent epidemic. Back in 2007, reasearch estimated that nearly 1 billion people globally had deficient and insufficient Vitamin D levels in their blood! Mainly attributed to changes in lifestyle and geographical/ environmental conditions that have reduced our sun exposure levels, experts believe that Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency is the world’s most under-diagnosed and under-treated nutritional deficiency.
Being linked to a host of chronic illnesses (including cardiovascular diseases, autoimmune conditions, asthma, osteoporosis and cancer, among others), the insufficient blood level of Vitamin D is an independent risk factor contributing to global mortality rates.
The Risk Factors Related to Vitamin D Deficiency
Inadequate sunlight exposure: Those who do not spend (enough) time outdoors owing to lifestyle choices, health issues or environmental and climatic conditions are at a high risk of deficiency. Use of sunscreens or covering up of the entire body while in the sun does not help the body absorb this Vitamin.
Age over 50 years: The elderly are at a higher risk of deficiency than other age groups. This is because their bodies are unable to synthesize Vitamin D from sun exposure or their kidneys are unable to convert the Vitamin into its usable, active form.
- Darker Skin complexion: People with darker complexions need more sun exposure to synthesize Vitamin D in their body owing to the higher levels of melanin pigment in their skin.
Lower consumption of Vitamin D: If you do not consume recommended levels of Vitamin D overtime, it increases the risk of deficiency, especially when combined with the changing lifestyle. For instance, vegans do not consume the natural source of this Vitamin – animal products. They may have to consciously consume fortified foods (cereals, soy milk, etc.) or Vitamin D Supplements, in combination with safe sunlight exposure to reduce their risk.
- Medical complications: People with conditions such as cystic fibrosis, chronic kidney/ liver diseases, Celiac disease, etc. that prevent the absorption/ processing of Vitamin D are at a higher risk of insufficiency.
Geographical/ climatic conditions: People living in areas with limited sunlight for a major part of the year (those far away from the equator, for instance) or grey/ cooler climatic conditions are at a higher risk of deficiency.
Spotting Vitamin D Deficiency: Understanding the Signs and Symptoms
- Frequent Illness and/or Infections:Vitamin D helps in strengthening the immune system. Combined with its anti-inflammatory properties, it acts as an immunomodulator and helps us fight infections.If you keep getting colds/ flu/ infections or keep coming down with something or the other around the year, chances are high that you have a Vitamin D deficiency. Several studies have found a direct link between the deficiency and respiratory illness such as Asthma, Bronchitis,Pneumonia, etc.
- Bone, Joint and Back Pain:Apart from helping in Calcium metabolism, Vitamin D is directly related to our musculoskeletal health. If you have a deficiency of this nutrient, it is highly likely that you experience chronic lower back pain and/or achy/ throbbing bones and joints. The pain may be so excruciating that it affects your day-to-day functioning.
- Bone Loss and Fractures:Given its central role in the absorption of Calcium by the body, it impacts the growth, strength and density of our bones. If the body does not have adequate levels of Vitamin D, it will cause bone loss and weak, brittle bones. So, if you are prone to fractures, your doctor may recommend a test to check your Vitamin D level.
- Fatigue and Tiredness:Are you constantly tired/ fatigued? Do you have a never-ending energy slump? If so, you could be suffering from a deficiency of this essential nutrient.Studies have found that an increase in blood levels of the Vitamin reduced the symptoms of fatigue and tiredness.
- Depression, Anxiety and Mood Disorders:Owing to its role in cognitive health, serotonin production and the regulation of mood and emotions, a lack of adequate Vitamin D in the human body causes depression, anxiety and mood disorders. If you are feeling low/ irritable/ anxious over a long period or in regular bouts, you may want to check your Vitamin D level.
- Other Signs and Symptoms
- Slower Healing of Wounds
- Hair Loss
- Muscles feel heavy and/ or weak
- Constant lingering or chronic muscular pain
How to Know for Sure?:More often than not, Vitamin D Deficiency’s symptoms are very subtle or not present at all. This means many people may not know they have a deficiency until very late. A simple blood test will let you know for sure if you have a Vitamin D deficiency.If you think you are at a risk or spot the signs of deficiency, get in touch with your doctor who will prescribe the test. Based on the test results and your individual needs and circumstances, the doctor will come up with a treatment plan.
How to Prevent Vitamin D Deficiency and Insufficiency?
- Safe sun exposure:When our body is exposed to natural sunlight, the Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays react with the cholesterol in our body to produce the fat-soluble Vitamin D. The best way to prevent deficiency is safe sun exposure (excessive exposure increases the risk of skin cancer) for a limited duration everyday (as prescribed by a health professional).
- Dietary Adjustments to Incorporate Vitamin D:You can incorporate foods that are rich Vitamin D sources into your diet to prevent deficiency. It is important to note it is difficult to get the complete requirement of the Vitamin only through the diet.
Apart from sunshine, the best natural source of Vitamin-D is animal-based foods. It is found in fish (especially oily ones like mackerel, sardines, salmon, herring, tuna, etc.), egg yolks, beef liver, offal, cod liver oil and so on. Mushrooms are another good food source. Fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, cheese, breakfast cereals, soy drinks, etc. too contain good amounts of Vitamin D.
- Vitamin D Supplements:All said and done, not everyone can get the required amount of sunshine daily to naturally synthesize Vitamin D owing to a whole host of issues like geographical conditions, medical complications, lifestyle challenges and so on. And given that diet alone cannot help in reaching our targeted Vitamin D level, it is useful to take a targeted Vitamin D supplement or a multivitamin supplement to prevent deficiency and insufficiency.
Remember to consult a doctor before taking a Vitamin D Supplement. The last thing you want is to develop Vitamin D toxicity.
The Way Forward
The way forward for us is to gain awareness of Vitamin D deficiency’s symptoms and the risk factors associated with it. This will enable us to spot the deficiency and treat it before it spirals into a major health issue. After all, doesn’t a stitch in time save nine?