Are you getting enough vitamin D? If you spend most of your days indoors or cover your body with a layer of sunscreen before heading outdoors, you could be seriously deficient in this vitamin. Surprisingly, up to three quarters of people have low levels of vitamin D which is not surprising since there are few foods that are naturally good sources of vitamin D. Most people are dependent on daily sun exposure to get adequate levels and the ability to absorb and utilize natural vitamin D decreases with age. Fortunately more foods such as breakfast cereals are being fortified with vitamin D which makes it a little easier to get it through diet. If you’re concerned, how can you tell if you have low levels of vitamin D? What are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency in humans?
Symptoms of a Vitamin D Deficiency in Adults
Unfortunately, you can be deficient in vitamin D without having any obvious symptoms. An adult suffering the effects of a severe vitamin D deficiency can develop a condition known as osteomalacia – a disease associated with weakness and softening of the bones. In children, vitamin D deficiency can present as rickets, a disease characterized by bowing of the legs and deformities of the pelvis.
In most case the symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency will be more subtle – if present at all. Since vitamin D helps the immune system work properly, a deficiency of vitamin D can increase the risk of developing colds and viruses. Low levels of vitamin D can also cause vague muscle aches and fatigue which some might attribute to “old age”. It can lead to depression, loss of motivation, and a generalized decrease in energy level. There are people walking around with a vitamin D deficiency that feel reasonably well with few apparent symptoms.
The Risks of a Vitamin D Deficiency
The problem with having even a mild vitamin D deficiency is that – despite having no symptoms – you may be at increased risk of a variety of diseases including osteoporosis, high blood pressure, autoimmune disease, heart disease, and multiple sclerosis. If you suffer from vague muscle aches, fatigue, and depression, lack of vitamin D may be contributing to your symptoms. The only way to really know for sure is to have your doctor check a vitamin D level.
How Can You Reduce the Risk of a Vitamin D Deficiency?
To reduce the risk of a vitamin D deficiency, it’s important to make a conscious effort to get sun exposure several times a week. Eating fatty fish regularly and eggs regularly will also boost vitamin D levels, but you have to eat a fair amount of these foods to meet the suggested intake of 400 IU per day and 600 IU per day for adults over age seventy. Most experts believe these levels are far too low and that most people should be getting at least 1,000 IU each day. Cod liver oil is an excellent source of vitamin D, but it may be safer to use supplements since cod liver oil can be a source of contaminants such as mercury and PCBs.
The bottom line? To reduce the risks of a vitamin D deficiency, ask your doctor to check a vitamin d level and find out whether you need to supplement. It’s a smart move to make for better health.
Eur J Clin Nutr 51 Suppl 1: S76-9.
Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 79 (3): 362-71.