For starters, vitamin D – not a vitamin.
Well, it is not a vitamin per se. It acts like a hormone which makes it more complex and therefore more important than other vitamins.
It is also known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ since it’s produced when our body interacts with the sun. While that sounds cheerful and innocent, its inadequate levels are associated with a number of serious health conditions.
Common risk factors for Vitamin D deficiency:
- The farther we live from the equator the less sunlight we get.
- Most of the time is spent indoors. Even folks who live in the sunniest cities like Barcelona or Los Angeles can be at risk for vitamin D deficiency if they have desk jobs and spend most of their time inside office buildings.
- Insufficient amount of foods high in vitamin D (oily fish, dairy, egg yolks, beef liver, etc.) is added to the diet or not at all.
- Body doesn’t absorb vitamin D properly.
- If you are 50 years or older, you are at high risk for vitamin D deficiency.
I fell victim of critical vitamin D deficiency myself and have firsthand knowledge of its effect. What happens is that at one point the entire immune system starts acting crazy.
Symptoms of low vitamin D
Red flags like constant feeling of fatigue, chipping nails, dry and flaky skin, allergies you’ve never had before, mood swings pop up out of nowhere. All because the immune system is not doing so well. And weakened immunity is the reason to suggest that vitamin D level is down.
Other signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include:
- Bone and muscle pain (Adequate vitamin levels help maintain muscle and bone health. People who lack vitamin D are more likely to have problems with bones and muscles and suffer from chronic pains.)
- Bone loss (Vitamin D and calcium absorption go hand in hand. People who are diagnosed with bone loss have low total calcium levels. And almost in all cases low vitamin D is not that far behind.)
- Hair loss (Severe hair loss can be mistakenly linked to stress, although more often than not it’s the result of vitamin D deficiency, especially in women.)
- Depression (Often there is a direct connection between feeling low and low vitamin D levels. And giving its high dosage to people who are deficient helps to significantly improve their mood.)
The thing is, low vitamin D never travels solo. While its deficiency is the problem on its own, it’s also linked to many ailments. People who don’t have enough vitamin D are more prone to autoimmune diseases like sarcoidosis, multiple sclerosis, dementia) and oncological diseases. It is also related to problems with endocrine, renal and reproductive systems, gut health, problems with bones and joints, hormonal imbalances, heart conditions.
And even if it’s not the cause of certain health problems it’s definitely a predisposition. With weakened immunity it will take you much longer to heal or to get over an infection or a virus. And something as simple as treating a cold can become tricky. All because the body becomes more resistant to treatment. Yet, boosting vitamin D level can significantly speed up the recovery and help get rid of the problems associated with the lack of it.
My experience taught me that it’s best to prevent vitamin D deficiency long before it hits you.
So here are four simple steps to save yourself time and trouble:
1. Take a blood test
Regular bloodwork your doctors throw in for good measure doesn’t prove anything and says squat about your vitamin D level. So to be sure get your vitamin D levels checked once a year.
2. Be in the know
How much vitamin D is enough? – Everyone, despite their geographical location, should aim at minimum 30 ng/mL which is the lowest normal and not over 80 ng/mL. Anything below 30 ng/mL is where your immune system starts acting unpredictable.
3. Replenish your stocks
Your best source of vitamin D is the sun. 20 minutes of mid-day sun is exactly what your body needs. But if your levels are already critically low you’ll have to turn to the next best thing - the supplements. Besides, the recent research suggests that sometimes we might not get enough vitamin D either from the sun or from the food we eat. If that's the case the supplements might be our only option. However, your doctor should be the one to prescribe you the right dosage.
4. Be in control
One of the main tasks of vitamin D is to control the absorption of calcium and phosphorus. And in case you are taking the supplements it’s very important to keep their levels in check. Get them tested once or twice a month after the start of the supplement treatment.
In any case, the best thing you can do is eat foods rich in D vitamin and spend more time outdoors to pay tribute to the sun and wait for it to return the compliment.