Several generations ago it was common for parents to lay their undressed infants out in the sunshine every day for good health. Our modern minds tend to think, “That’s crazy! Did they slather on sunscreen first?” Although it may not be how we would go about it today, in reality, these parents helped their children get proper vitamin D amounts.
Vitamin D deficiency is an epidemic in the United States; estimates have it affecting as many as 90% of some American adult populations. This is a serious health problem that needs to be addressed.
What Does Vitamin D Do?
Actually considered a hormone, vitamin D is different from the majority of other vitamins since our bodies can make most of what we need, rather than having to rely on food to receive enough of it.
Vitamin D is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” since it is made when our bodies change sunlight into chemicals to be used by the body. When UVB rays hit our skin, a substance in our skin changes into D3 which then moves through the bloodstream into our kidneys and liver.
Vitamin D is fat-soluble and resides in the body’s fatty tissues and the liver. It is an essential nutrient for overall health, and research suggests that deficiency can lead to brittle bones, breast cancer, colon cancer, autoimmune disorders, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
How Do We Get Vitamin D?
Exposure to sunlight is the primary way our bodies make vitamin D, and with proper exposure, we can make adequate amounts. However, with the rise in skin cancer over the past decades, many people now wear sunscreen, limiting the opportunity for the skin to do its incredible sunlight conversion.
Balancing the need to get enough vitamin D with the need to protect our skin from damage is tricky. And there isn’t a precise amount of sunlight that doctors can point to as the ideal amount for vitamin D production because it can vary from person to person. In general, experts suggest 10-20 minutes of sun exposure each day, but even this is highly variable depending on the person and their location.
People with darker skin make less of the nutrient than those with fair skin. Young people produce more than older people. And those in the United States who live north of Atlanta will find it almost impossible to get enough UVB exposure during the winter, regardless of how willing they are to go without sunscreen.
5 Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency
Blood work ordered by your doctor is the only way to diagnose low vitamin D levels, but here are some signs to watch for and to discuss with your provider:
- Frequent illnesses and infections. We have vitamin D receptors throughout our bodies, including on our immune cells. One of vitamin D’s primary roles is to help our bodies fight off infections. If you find that you are very susceptible to colds, cases of flu, and respiratory infections, you may be low on this vital nutrient.
- Muscle and bone pain. Vitamin D is well known for its role in preventing osteoporosis, as it helps with the absorption of calcium. But it also appears to have anti-inflammatory properties as well. If you are battling chronic bone, back, or muscle pain, you may need to boost your D levels.
- Chronic fatigue. It is easy for adults to ignore their constant feeling of tiredness and chalk it up to being older and busier. And even when patients pursue the cause of their chronic fatigue, vitamin D deficiency is often overlooked. But research shows that extremely low levels of this nutrient lead to chronic fatigue and tiredness.
- Hair loss. This is a symptom that many people quickly attribute to stress. While it’s true that stress can be a cause of hair loss, vitamin D deficiency is worth consideration. Low levels are linked to the autoimmune disorder of alopecia areata in which patients experience extreme hair loss over the whole body.
- Depression. There are vitamin D receptors in the part of the brain that impacts the development of depression, so a deficiency in the nutrient may lead to this mental health disorder. Research in countries such as Norway and Sweden suggests a strong link between low levels of D and depression.
5 Foods That Are High in Vitamin D
Since most of us are unable or unwilling to have adequate unprotected time in the sun for vitamin D production, that leaves food sources as the next option. Here are five foods that will boost your levels:
- Fatty fish. Because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it requires some fat to be usable. Fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, and sardines are excellent sources of vitamin D. As a bonus, these fish are full of protein and healthy fats, too.
- Beef Liver. Although organ meat usually is not high on many people’s lists of favorite foods, it is incredibly nutrient-rich, and a fantastic source of vitamin D. In addition to providing high levels of D, beef liver is also rich in iron, making it a powerhouse, nutritionally.
- Egg yolks. Eggs get high praise as being good sources of protein, but they also hold a great source of vitamin D in their yolks. Sadly, egg yolks spent a lot of undeserved time on the western world’s naughty list of foods, due to concerns over cholesterol. Fortunately, that phase has passed, and we now recognize the tremendous health and nutritional benefits of eggs.
- Fortified foods. Many foods such as cereals, oatmeal, milk, and orange juice are fortified with vitamin D. Although these items are not as efficient at delivering the nutrient as other food sources, they are helpful in addressing deficiencies in the population, especially among children.
- Shellfish. Shrimp and oysters are both low-calorie sources of vitamin D, making them a great part of a healthy diet. Oysters have the bonus of being rich in B12 as well.
At Camas Swale we are committed to helping you live the healthiest life possible. If you are noticing any of the above symptoms, contact us today to schedule a time to come in for a visit. We will work to get you back on the road to vitality and good health.