Did you know most children (and adults) have a vitamin D deficiency? Vitamin D is important for good bone health and a healthy immune system. Learn about the long-term health effects of having a vitamin D deficiency and easy ways to get more vitamin D in your body.
Known as the “Sunshine Vitamin,” vitamin D is an important nutrient that 40% of Americans have a deficiency to. Vitamin D is known to help regulate calcium levels, promote good bone health, and reduce levels of depression. With all of these benefits, it is important to make sure you are getting your daily amount of vitamin D to avoid long-term physical and emotional health problems.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a group of fat-soluble compounds that is mainly responsible for regulating the absorption of calcium in the body. Calcium is one of the essential building blocks for having a healthy bone development. Although the most commonly known way for people to receive vitamin D is through the UV-rays from the sun, vitamin D can also be received in foods or through dietary supplements. The body will naturally produce vitamin D when ultraviolet (UV) rays emitted by the sun strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis. The fat-soluble group includes vitamins D-1, D-2, and D-3 which are all essential nutrients to ensure healthy bone density, growth, and development among both children and adults.
Why is Vitamin D Important?
The vitamin's main purpose is to help regulate the body's use of calcium which will be used to promote good bone health throughout the body. Without vitamin D, our body is unable to properly absorb dietary calcium. Therefore, it is important to have a sufficient level of the vitamin to make sure calcium is put to good use. For children who have a vitamin D deficiency, they are at risk for developing rickets. Rickets is a disease that can cause soft, brittle, or weak bones in children. Similarly, adults with a vitamin D deficiency are at risk of developing bone diseases such as osteomalacia (soft bones) or osteoporosis (fragile bones.)
When vitamin D is received either from the sun or taken orally (with food or a dietary supplement,) it is then converted into an active form of the vitamin. This active form will help to promote the optimal absorption of calcium from your diet. If the body has a vitamin D deficiency, the nutrients from the calcium in your diet will be allocated elsewhere. The dietary calcium will not be used to protect your bone health and you may be at risk for developing various negative, health effects. In addition to benefiting the optimal use of dietary calcium, vitamin D helps to regulate the parathyroid glands. These glands work to balance dietary calcium levels in your body by maintaining communication from your kidneys, gut, and inner skeleton. As you can see, your vitamin D levels have a significant impact on the body’s regulation and maintenance of dietary calcium.
Regulate Immune System
Outside of promoting good bone health, vitamin D can help to facilitate a normal, effective immune system. Science shows that having enough vitamin D can provide resistance against developing diseases such as multiple sclerosis, heart disease, and the flu.
The "Sunshine Vitamin" has also been proven to help your mental and emotional health. According to research, vitamin D is beneficial in reducing levels of depression and regulating an individual's mood. People who have anxiety or depression are more likely to also have a vitamin D deficiency.
What Causes a Vitamin D Deficiency?
Over 42 percent of American adults have a vitamin D deficiency. Why is it so common? Unlike many other vitamins essential for our health, vitamin D is not naturally found in many foods. The most common causes of a vitamin D deficiency include
- Being in an area with high air pollution
- Using sunscreen
- Spending more time indoors
- Living in a big city where buildings block sunlight
- Having darker skin (the higher levels of melanin in your skin makes it more difficult for your skin to absorb vitamin D from the sun)
- Specific diseases such as; Cystic Fibrosis, Crohn’s Disease, and Celiac (the intestines cannot absorb vitamin D from food or dietary supplements as easily)
How Do I Know If I Have a Vitamin D Deficiency?
Having a vitamin D deficiency is common. Here are some signs and symptoms to look out for if you think you might be at risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency.
- Lack of Energy
- Muscle aches or pains
- Severe Bone and Muscle Pain or Weakness
- Difficulty Climbing Stairs, Standing from Sitting on a Chair
- Stress Fractures (especially in your legs, pelvis, and hips)
To find out if you have a vitamin D deficiency, your doctor can conduct a simple blood test. If you have been experiencing mild to severe bone or muscle pains, your doctor may also do some X-Ray tests to make sure everything looks normal.
Health Effects of a Vitamin D Deficiency
Although common, you should make sure you are getting enough vitamin D per day since the nutrient is essential to ensuring your long-term health. If you go too long with a vitamin D deficiency, you may be at risk for developing the following health problems.
- Developing bone abnormalities (soft bones: osteomalacia, fragile bones: osteoporosis)
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Immune system disorders
- Falls in older people
- Some forms of cancer (i.g. colon, prostate, breast cancer)
- Multiple sclerosis
What is a Source of Vitamin D?
The easiest way to make sure you are getting the proper amount of vitamin D for your body is through the UV-rays emitted from the sun. Aim to spend an average of at least 15 to 20 minutes in the sun, around 3 to 4 times per week. The more time you can spend, the better! However, make sure you are still protecting yourself from the sun's strong UV-rays. If you are unable to get vitamin D from the sun, you can eat specific foods that contain vitamin D or take dietary supplements.
How Does Sunlight Affect Vitamin D Levels?
Vitamin D is produced in your body when your skin is exposed to the ultraviolet (UV) rays that the sun emits. However, the reason so many people suffer from a vitamin D deficiency is because of multiple factors that affect the sun’s strength and accessibility.
For many of us, 6 months of our year is spent living in primarily cold, rainy, or snowy climates. The UV-B light cannot reach as directly because the clouds block the sun. On top of that, people are unable to spend as much time outdoors and are less likely to get the proper amount of sun exposure needed to maintain optimal vitamin D levels.
Time of Day
The sun’s rays are most powerful anywhere between 10 AM to 3 PM. This is the best time of day to get sun exposure to maintain the right vitamin D levels for your body. However, keep in mind that cloud cover and air pollution can also have an affect on the sun’s strength and potency.
Where You Live
Cities that are closer to the equator will have higher UV-ray light levels. The farther away from the equator you are, the weaker the UV-rays are and the more likely you are to develop a vitamin D deficiency.
Melanin is a brown-black pigment in your eyes, hair, and skin and it is also what causes the skin to tan and darken. Higher levels of melanin in an individual’s skin makes it more difficult for the body to absorb UV-rays and also to get enough vitamin D. The more melanin that is present in your skin, means the more sun exposure you will need to get a sufficient amount of vitamin D.
How Much Vitamin D Do I Need?
Based upon recent research, scientists and doctors now believe we need more vitamin D on a daily basis than originally believed. The amount of vitamin D your body needs to have optimal calcium regulation is dependent on your age and also skin type. To get the most accurate number, you should consult with your doctor. However, the average amount you should aim for is around 400-800 IUs per day.
Children and Vitamin D
Not only are vitamin D deficiencies common in adults, they are also common in children. The reason so many people have a vitamin D deficiency is because it is difficult to find in the majority of the foods we eat. There are several reasons vitamin D deficiencies are common in children.
- Children are spending more time watching TV or playing video games indoors, rather than playing outside
- Fewer children walk to school on a daily basis
- Many popular sports are indoor spots (basketball, gymnastics, volleyball, etc.)
How to Make Sure Your Child Is Getting Enough Vitamin D
If you are worried that your child is not getting enough vitamin D, the easiest way to solve this problem is by giving them a vitamin D supplement. To get more vitamin D into their diet, encourage your child to eat or drink the foods we detail below.
How to Get More Vitamin D In Your Diet
Because Vitamin D is naturally only found in a few foods, many foods must be fortified to add vitamin D into them. If you are looking to increase the amount of vitamin D you are eating in your diet, try to eat the following foods a few times per week.
- Fish (salmon, swordfish, etc.)
- Egg yolks
- Milk (fortified)
- Cereal (fortified)
- Yogurt (fortified)
- Orange Juice (fortified)
You can also take vitamin D supplements to help boost your body’s daily intake of vitamin D.
All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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