Could you be vitamin D deficient? If you were you probably wouldn’t know it since vitamin D deficiency usually has no symptoms unless the deficiency is severe.
Vitamin D deficiency is more common than you might think particularly in areas where there is less exposure to sunlight. This is concerning since not only can being vitamin D deficient contribute to bone disease, there is increasing evidence that it may increase the risk of certain types of cancer as well as autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Vitamin D can enter the body through two sources. The first is through exposure to the sun which causes a precursor form of vitamin D to be converted to a form which can be used by the body. The second is through diet. Some of the best dietary sources are oily fish, cereals fortified with vitamin D, milk, and margarine. Unless you happen to eat these foods rather frequently, there’s a good chance you’re not taking in enough vitamin D through diet alone. If you are exposed to sunlight on a daily basis, you may be getting vitamin D in this manner, although with the rise in popularity of sunscreens which block its absorption, it’s more common for people to be vitamin D deficient than ever before.
Because of the increasing evidence that being vitamin D deficient can increase your risk not only of osteoporosis, falls, and fractures, but also of certain chronic disease such as cancer, it’s important to be sure you’re getting an adequate intake of this important vitamin. Unfortunately, researchers aren’t completely sure how much is needed to reduce the risk of chronic disease. Studies have shown that anywhere from 800 IU to 1200 IU per day may be needed to optimize health and reduce risk of disease. Since a serving of salmon has 360 IU and a glass of milk has close to 100 IU, you can see you’d have to consume these foods frequently to get an adequate dietary intake if you’re not exposed to the sun on a daily basis. You should be able to get an adequate dose of vitamin D from sun exposure if you expose your skin directly to the sun for ten minutes a day. How many people really have the time to do this on a consistent basis?
This brings up the issue of supplements if you feel you may be vitamin D deficient. Are they a good idea? Since there are only a few foods high in vitamin D, it’s unlikely you’ll get sufficient quantities of this vitamin through diet. You may be able to get enough sun exposure to provide the vitamin D you need during the warm summer months. Problems may arise in the winter months when you’re outdoors less often and are more covered up.
During this time, you may want to consider taking a 400 IU once or twice per day. You’ll want to avoid high levels of supplemental vitamin D since they can cause kidney stones and, in extreme cases, kidney failure. Check with your doctor before starting vitamin D supplements to make sure you’re not at high risk for kidney stones.
If you’re vitamin D deficient, it’s important to make changes in your diet and lifestyle to boost your levels of this important, disease-preventing vitamin. It may save your bones and your life.