Vitamin D is an unusual vitamin. It functions more like a hormone: your cells all have vitamin D receptors, and it is important for several body systems. When you don’t get enough vitamin D, either through diet or sunlight exposure, you risk serious health issues.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether we’re getting enough vitamin D. Although you can always ask your doctor to test your vitamin D levels, not all of us have the time (or the inclination) to go to the doctor frequently.
To make sure that you’re getting your daily dose, read on. You’ll learn how to spot the signs of vitamin D deficiency and why it’s so important. Plus, you can find ways to increase your vitamin D intake through sunlight, supplements and food.
Signs of vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency is very common. Scientists estimate that about a billion people worldwide don’t get enough of this important nutrient. Nearly 42 percent of adults in America are deficient. The closer you live to the equator, the easier it is to get your daily dose.
However, there are other risk factors for vitamin D deficiency. Having darker skin, age, excess weight, using sunscreen, taking certain medications and staying indoors are just some of the reasons you might have trouble getting enough.
There are certain signs that you’re not getting enough vitamin D. First, if you’re constantly fatigued and always getting sick, you’re probably D deficient. Try increasing your vitamin D intake (ask your doctor how much would be appropriate) and see if the symptoms resolve.
Vitamin D is also linked to mood and depression. If you’ve been diagnosed with depression, there’s a good chance that you also have low vitamin D blood levels. Supplementing may help, especially in winter.
If you experience bone, muscle and back pain, this could be a sign. Patients with bone and back pain are overwhelmingly linked to low vitamin D levels. That doesn’t mean that supplementing will cure everything that ails you, but it should help reduce your pain. Part of the reason is that vitamin D helps calcium absorption, which is crucial for your bone health. You might also experience bone loss, which is linked to vitamin D intake.
Vitamin D deficiency can also make it harder for you to heal wounds. If it seems to take you weeks to heal from scratches, scrapes and cuts, increase your vitamin D intake. This vitamin is important in creating new skin to cover wounds. It’s also crucial to fighting inflammation and infection.
Finally, vitamin D deficiency can lead to hair loss. It can even be a risk factor for alopecia. If you want to keep a full head of glossy, healthy hair, make sure that you’re getting plenty of vitamin D.
Good sources of vitamin D
Now that you know what happens when you don’t get enough vitamin D, here’s how to increase your intake:
- Sunlight exposure: Most of our natural vitamin D intake is through sunlight exposure. Unfortunately, many of us spend too much time indoors. Between COVID restrictions, cold winter weather, office jobs and the latest Netflix series, you’re probably not getting enough sunlight. Plus, wearing sunscreen is important for preventing skin cancer—but it also interferes with your vitamin D supply. Talk to your doctor about the best ways to protect your skin and get enough sunlight.
- Supplements: You can always supplement with vitamin D. This is helpful if you don’t eat fish and dairy. Both vitamin D and cod liver oil supplements are a good way to keep your intake up. Again, ask your doctor about appropriate dosages.
- Fatty fish: Salmon, canned tuna, herring and sardines are all great sources of vitamin D—and they offer plenty of other health benefits. Make fish a part of your regular diet whenever possible.
- Egg yolks: However you like to eat your eggs, don’t leave out the yolks. They’re a great source of vitamin D, and a frequent part of American daily diets.
- Mushrooms: Mushrooms—as long as they’re grown in sunlight—are an excellent source of vitamin D. In fact, aside from fortified foods, they’re the only plant source of this vitamin.
- Fortified foods: Finally, fortified foods, such as milk, orange juice, cereal and oatmeal can help increase your vitamin D intake.
However you choose to get your vitamin D, make sure you make an effort to get enough. It’s one of the easiest ways to improve your overall health and well-being.