Vitamin D is a nutrient typically associated with bone and skeletal health, because it is necessary to help the body absorb calcium, which is necessary for fending off bone density loss. However, vitamin D has a number of other roles in the body that can make a deficiency a fairly big concern for your health. Also, vitamin D supplements may not be the best way of getting this nutrient into your system. That means that it’s important to know some more reliable sources of vitamin D along with the early signs of a deficiency.
Why you need vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential for brain health. With adequate levels of vitamin D, you may be at a lower risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia, depression, and even schizophrenia. Vitamin D has also been known to influence the progression of other conditions such as heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and cancer.
Where your body gets vitamin D
Some people refer to vitamin D as the sunshine vitamin, because sunlight helps your body produce this nutrient naturally. If you live in an area with low sunlight, you might rely more on dietary sources of vitamin D such as eggs, cheese, fortified milk, and beef liver. Because vitamin D is most abundant in animal-based foods, vegans may be at a particularly high risk for deficiencies, especially those who live in areas like the Pacific Northwest, where sunshine is less frequent.
How to spot a deficiency
Do you live in the United States? Then there’s a good chance you’re low on vitamin D. According the the journal Nutrition Research, about 42% of American adults are deficient in the nutrient. The symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency are typically subtle, but they may include muscle weakness, bone pain, and general fatigue. The best way to be sure that you are getting enough vitamin D is by checking in with your doctor for a blood test to measure how much vitamin D is in your body. If you have diabetes, hypertension, or multiple sclerosis, testing for vitamin D is of particular importance, since a deficiency could complicate these conditions.
When to use supplements
While supplements are a readily available source of vitamin D, they may not be right for everyone. Increasing your sun exposure and changing your diet might be better steps to take if you have been diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency. When you do go out in the sun more frequently, make sure that you still wear plenty of sunscreen to minimize your skin cancer risk. If you have darker skin, you might need more time outdoors than someone with less pigment in the skin. Groups who should be particularly cautious about vitamin D supplements are older women with calcium deficiencies and overweight kids and teens. In each of these populations, the risks of using supplements do not tend to outweigh the benefits.
Before taking any supplement or starting a new medication, connect with MeMD to be sure that you are taking the right dosage and reducing any potential risks that could come with the use of dietary supplements. You can also rely on our physicians for advice on how curb your skin cancer risk.