You’ve probably heard it said that vitamin D is the “sunshine vitamin.” Why? Well, a lot of the vitamin D in your body is actually synthesized by your skin when it’s exposed to sunlight. Pretty unique, right?
Since the body is able to manufacture its own vitamin D (with a little help from sunshine) you’d think that vitamin D deficiency would be a rare occurrence. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. In fact, it’s estimated that vitamin D insufficiency affects 25 to 50 percent of the population.1 That’s pretty alarming.
Vitamin D plays an essential role in many of your body’s systems. For that reason, it’s absolutely imperative that you understand the risks and signs of vitamin D deficiency, so you can live a full, healthy life.
So, What Exactly Does Vitamin D Do?
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin – and for good reason. It’s necessary for a wide array of your body’s functions. Vitamin D helps support the health of your:
- Heart, and
- Immune system2
A lack of vitamin D may also play a role in your body’s inflammatory processes. Now, keep in mind, inflammation is your body’s response to perceived threats. But chronic inflammation can actually lead to the development of serious health problems.3
Vitamin D is also famous for its partnership with calcium. Now, you’re probably well aware that calcium is absolutely necessary for maintaining strong bones and preventing the onset of osteoporosis.4 Vitamin D works with calcium in a couple ways:
1. It allows your intestine to absorb calcium from dietary sources,
2. It helps your bones maintain a steady amount of calcium.5
Sources of Vitamin D
Clearly, vitamin D plays a major role in many of your body’s systems. But where does it come from? And how can you get more?
Sun exposure is one of your body’s main sources of vitamin D. You see, when the sun’s rays make contact with your skin, a compound called 7-dehydrocholesterol converts the UVB rays into vitamin D.6 In other words, with the help of a little sunlight, your body is able to manufacture its own vitamin D. It’s one of the many little miracles your body performs on a daily basis.
Of course, sun exposure is risky business. Time spent in the sun can increase the potential of developing very serious health problems.7 For that reason, it’s not a good idea to spend long periods of time in direct sunlight – especially without adequate sun protection.
There aren’t many dietary sources of vitamin D, but it does occur naturally in tuna, salmon, swordfish, cod liver oil, egg yolks, and beef liver.8
And several foods are commonly fortified with vitamin D. Orange juice, dairy products, and cereals often have vitamin D added to them to increase their nutritional content.
Vitamin D is fairly rare in food sources, and many factors can interfere with your body’s ability to synthesize it. For this reason, a supplement is a great way to support your body’s vitamin D levels, to ensure you’re getting adequate support.
Risk Factors for Vitamin D Deficiency
There are many reasons why your body may not have sufficient levels of vitamin D. Here are some common risk factors:
Darker skin tone: Your skin’s ability to synthesize vitamin D is greatly reduced if you have a naturally darker skin tone.9
Limited sun exposure: UV rays are a major source of vitamin D, so limited time in the sun means lower levels of vitamin D. Sunscreen use, spending time indoors, and reduced sunlight in the winter months all contribute to lower vitamin D levels.10
Advanced age: As you age, your skin’s ability to produce vitamin D greatly decreases.11
Obesity: Lower concentrations of vitamin D in the body are associated with obesity, so if you’re overweight – you may need higher doses of vitamin D.12
10 Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms To Look Out For
If you’re concerned that you may have low levels of vitamin D, you can keep an eye out for the following symptoms:
1. Feeling Tired or Sleepy
If you find yourself yawning throughout the day, you may want to get your vitamin D levels tested. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with daytime sleepiness, and studies have shown that a vitamin D supplement may help boost energy.13
2. Getting Sick Often
Vitamin D plays a huge role in the body’s immune system, boosting the health of the skin, the eyes, the urinary tract, the respiratory system, and the intestine.14
So, if you struggle with frequent respiratory infections or other bugs, you may want to increase your intake of vitamin D to help support your immune system.15,16
3. Intestinal Issues
Recurring gastrointestinal issues are strongly associated with insufficient vitamin D.
4. Back Pain
Back pain has many causes – it can be brought on by heavy lifting, or even from a bad night’s sleep. But sometimes, back pain is evidence of something more – a vitamin D deficiency.
Scientific studies have demonstrated that inadequate vitamin D levels are linked with back pain, especially in older populations, and in those with lower than average bone density.18
5. Tooth Decay
A 2013 medical review found that vitamin D may play an important role in helping to prevent tooth decay.19 So, if you find yourself spending hours (and a small fortune) in the dentist’s chair, you may want to consider increasing your intake of vitamin D.
6. Hair Loss
Hair loss has many causes, but proper nutrition does seem to play a role. So far, scientific studies have identified two types of hair loss associated with low vitamin D levels:
1. Female pattern hair loss, which is an overall thinning of hair on the scalp20
2. Diffuse hair loss all over the body21
If you’re concerned about one of these types of hair loss, you may want to increase your intake of vitamin D.
7. Chronic Muscle Pain
Living with chronic pain is no joke. It affects nearly every facet of your life, including your energy levels, emotional health, and your ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. For that reason, it’s important to do everything you can to reduce chronic pain. And guess what? Vitamin D may be able to help.
A study done in 2014 found that of 174 patients presenting with chronic pain, a full 71 percent were deficient in vitamin D, while another 21 percent had insufficient levels of vitamin D. It’s thought that vitamin D may play a role in the way your body process ongoing pain – and low levels of vitamin D may increase your sensitivity to pain.22
So if ongoing pain is something you deal with, you may want to ask your medical provider to test your vitamin D levels.
8. Low Mood
Inadequate levels of vitamin D are strongly associated with feelings of sadness and lethargy.23 And a study has found that vitamin D supplements may actually be helpful in boosting mood and maintaining emotional health.24
9. Slow Wound Healing
Your skin has the amazing ability to repair itself after it’s been damaged. But if you find that cuts and scrapes are healing more slowly than they should, a vitamin D deficiency may be the culprit.
When it comes to wound healing, vitamin D works with a small protein called transforming growth factor beta 1. Together, they direct cells to begin the process of rebuilding tissue and regenerating skin.25
So, if it seems like you have to keep re-applying bandages, consider upping your vitamin D intake to help support your body’s natural healing processes.
Headaches are, well, a real headache. Now, headaches can have a variety of causes, but here’s something interesting to note: like other manifestations of pain, they’re strongly associated with insufficient levels of vitamin D.26
It’s certainly beginning to look like pain and low levels of vitamin D are closely related, isn’t it?
Getting Enough of the Sunshine Vitamin
Your body works in miraculous ways – like manufacturing its own supply of vitamin D. Unfortunately, many factors – both within and beyond your control – can interfere with your body’s ability to do this. If you’re concerned you may have a serious vitamin D deficiency, consult with your doctor. In the meantime, vitamin D supplements are a great way to ensure your body is truly getting the “sunshine” it needs.
Learn More About Vitamins:
Vitamin B5 Benefits & How To Tell if You’re Deficient
What Is Vitamin E (and symptoms of vitamin e deficiency)
Vitamin B Shots: Is it Hype or Actually Helpful