Do you suffer from unexplained tiredness? Waking up with unaccountable aches and pains that just seem to linger on? If you answered yes then you may have Vitamin D deficiency and you wouldn’t be alone. An estimated 75% of U.S. adults are reported to have mild or severe Vitamin D deficiency. More people than ever are estimated to be deficient in this vital ‘vitamin’, putting them at risk of developing cancer, diabetes and heart disease. In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about the role of Vitamin D, if you are at-risk of being Vitamin D deficient, and the treatment options available to you.
What is Vitamin D?
OK, first off, Vitamin D is a hormone not a vitamin despite its misleading title, as it synthesized by the body. It plays a vital role in the development of healthy bones, muscles and contributes to general good health. Importantly, recent studies have suggested that Vitamin D also protects* against chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and Multiple Sclerosis.
Did you know?
In northern Western Europe, there are 6 months of the year when there are insufficient UVB rays to produce* sufficient Vitamin D!
Our bodies use Ultraviolet B sunrays to convert cholesterol in the skin into Vitamin D. On average, a fair skinned person will need to expose their face or forearms to direct sunlight (not through a window) two to three times a week for 20-30 minutes each time (this is a general guide) in order to maintain sufficient Vitamin D levels. Importantly, darker-skinned adults and those over 65 years old require significantly higher periods of exposure.
Sources of Vitamin D
Unfortunately, most food sources contain very little Vitamin D and therefore we are restricted to making this vital hormone by ourselves. Oily fish, eggs and liver do contain Vitamin D but the quantity is insufficient to sustain optimum blood levels. Alternative sources of Vitamin D can be found in fortified breakfast cereals and milk or OTC supplements, although studies have shown there is no real substitute for sunshine produced Vitamin D.
Top 10 people most at risk of Vitamin D deficiency
If you find yourself in any one of the categories listed below, you may need to discuss your Vitamin D levels with your doctor and/or consider taking supplements.
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women
- Women who have had several babies with short gaps between pregnancies
- Children aged 6 months to 5 years
- Adults aged 65+
- Darker skinned adults (African, African American, Afro-Caribbean, South-Asian)
- People who are inside a lot of the time or who need to cover up for cultural or religious reasons
- People adhering to strict vegetarian or vegan diets
- Anyone strictly applying sunscreen (SPF 15+)
- Have a medical condition such as Crohn’s or Coeliac Disease or taking medications including Carbamazepine, Phenytoin, Primidone, barbiturates and HIV drugs
How to tell if you are Vitamin D deficient?
There aren’t always any clear signs that you have Vitamin D deficiency but, as an adult, you may experience tiredness, bone pain or muscle weakness. The only definitive way to determine your Vitamin D blood level is to complete a 25 (OH) D blood test at the doctor’s office, lab, or using an in-home test. However, the table below shows guidelines are inconsistent across various organizations. Consider that a blood result of 29ng/ml would be categorized differently by each organization. Therefore, seek your doctor’s advice regarding national medical guidelines.
|Vitamin D Council||Endocrine Society||Food & Nutrition Board|
|Deficient||0-30 ng/ml||0-20 ng/ml||0-11 ng/ml|
|Insufficient||31-39 ng/ml||21-29 ng/ml||12-20 ng/ml|
|Sufficient||40-80 ng/ml||30-100 ng/ml||>20ng/ml|
Based on your test results, you may need to take Vitamin D supplements. The amount of units required will depend on the optimum level discussed with your doctor. As a guide, the Vitamin D Council suggest taking 5,000 IU/day to reach and maintain a level of 50ng/ml.
In summary, Vitamin D is an essential hormone required for good bone health and preventing chronic diseases. There are a broad range of risk factors for being Vitamin D deficient and it is highly recommended that you complete a 25 (OH) D blood test. Vitamin D supplements may be required to increase* your Vitamin D level but seek your doctor’s advice regarding daily intake and optimal blood levels.
- Dawson-Hughes B. 2008. Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D and functional outcomes in the elderly. Am J Clin Nutr 88:537S-40S.
- Liebman B. Are you Deficient? Nutrition Action Healthletter Nov. 2006; 23:1, 3-7.