Part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle is making sure you’re getting sufficient amounts of the vitamins and minerals your body needs. To do so, you eat a well-balanced diet and maybe even take a multivitamin every day. However, there’s a chance you might be lacking vitamin D, as diet alone is often not an adequate source for this hormone. We’re breaking down the basics of vitamin D so you know when to talk to your doctor about a potential deficiency.
How Do I Get Vitamin D?
Your body creates vitamin D naturally when you expose your bare skin to the sun’s ultraviolet B rays. The rays energize the cholesterol in your skin, which causes the cells to create vitamin D. If you decide to get your vitamin D through sun exposure, you need to do so with great caution because extended sun exposure can result in sunburns and skin cancer; spend no more than 10 minutes outside without sunblock. But we recommend opting for safer ways to meet your daily dose. These include eating plenty of fish, mushrooms, and fortified foods and drinks. You can also speak with your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement.
Am I at Risk of a Vitamin D Deficiency?
Vitamin D deficiency is widespread, with about one billion people worldwide falling below proper levels of this essential vitamin. Several risk factors increase your chances of a deficiency. Here are a few to keep in mind:
Indoor jobs. If you work indoors during the day, you are missing your prime ultraviolet B absorption hours. These rays can’t pass through windows, so even if you can see the sun from your desk, you’re not increasing your vitamin D levels.
Age. People age 55 and older don’t convert the ultraviolet B rays into vitamin D as efficiently as younger people do.
Dark skin. Darker skin has larger amounts of melanin, which slows down the rate at which your skin absorbs the sun’s ultraviolet B rays.
Specialty diets. Only a few types of food contain significant amounts of vitamin D, most of which tend to be animal-based or fortified dairy products. Therefore, vegetarians, vegans, and lactose-intolerant people have more difficulty reaching significant levels of vitamin D through their diet.
What Are Symptoms of a Deficiency?
A vitamin D deficiency presents itself in various, somewhat vague, symptoms. These symptoms are common signs of several different health conditions, so a deficiency typically isn’t the first suspected ailment. If you notice several of the following symptoms, speak with your doctor. They can run a blood test to determine if you do have insufficient amounts of vitamin D. Keep in mind, this is a list of only a few of the symptoms, so be sure to explain any abnormal symptoms you experience to your doctor.
Weak bones. Vitamin D allows your body to pull calcium and phosphate from the digested food in your intestines. When your body is low in calcium and phosphate, perhaps from being unable to absorb them, it releases a hormone that extracts existing calcium and phosphate from your bones, leaving them weak and soft.
Frequent illnesses. Vitamin D strengthens diseases’ worst enemy: the antimicrobial peptide (AMP). You can find AMPs in immune cells and on mucosal surfaces, and they rid your body of bacteria and viruses that can make you ill. The immune system relies on vitamin D to keep it healthy and robust, so a deficiency of vitamin D can result in frequent illnesses.
Muscle pain. Your muscles contain pain receptors called nociceptors that respond to different stimuli. A vitamin D deficiency results in a chemical stimulus that causes the nociceptors to send pain signals to your spinal cord or brain stem.
Inflammation. Certain T-cells, a form of white blood cell, tell your immune system how to react to an invading bacteria or virus. The presence of vitamin D in your body, or lack thereof, will cause your immune system to produce a specific type of these T-cells. When you have sufficient levels of vitamin D, the result is T-cells that aren’t inflammatory and will thus cause less pain and swelling.
If you have a combination of any of the symptoms above or meet one of the at-risk qualifications, don’t hesitate to speak with your primary care physician at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group. Your doctor will determine if a vitamin D deficiency is likely, and they can test your blood to check your hormone levels. Whether these symptoms are a sign of vitamin D deficiency or something else entirely, your doctor can help find the right treatment to help you achieve better health.