By Elizabeth Foley
Are you getting enough vitamin D? This is an important question because maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D keeps our bones, teeth and muscles in good physical condition. Vitamin D does this by regulating the calcium and phosphate levels in our body. Thus, it is essential that we monitor our vitamin D levels as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Unfortunately, 42% of the U.S. population is dealing with vitamin D deficiency (1). In fact, many people do not realize they are vitamin D deficient because the symptoms can be subtle. If you are concerned about your vitamin D levels, check in with your healthcare provider. You may benefit from taking a vitamin D supplement.
There are a number of factors that lead to vitamin D deficiency. Look out for these ten reasons you may not be getting enough vitamin D:
2. Dietary Choices
5. Digestive Conditions
7. Skin Pigmentation
Vitamin D is sometimes known as the “sunshine vitamin”. When sunlight hits your skin, it produces vitamin D from cholesterol. According to research, we receive 80 to100% of the vitamin D our bodies need through exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation (2). At the same time, we are also encouraged to limit the amount of time we spend in the sun. To this end, we wear sunscreen and sun-blocking clothing to avoid the adverse effects of the UV rays. If you are someone who has limited sun exposure, then you may need to supplement your diet with vitamin D to maintain healthy levels. This is even more of an issue for people in northern climates that have less sun exposure and people with darker skin.
It can be hard to consume enough vitamin D through food. In fact, studies have shown that the best way to get enough vitamin D is by taking a supplement (3). Depending upon your dietary choices, it can be difficult to maintain ideal vitamin D levels from food sources alone. To improve nutrition, we have added vitamins into what are known as ‘fortified’ foods. Fortified foods can be a great nutritional source of vitamin D, since few foods naturally contain vitamin D. For example, foods naturally rich in vitamin D include: mushrooms, tuna, mackerel, salmon, beef liver, cheese and egg yolks. Examples of foods that are fortified with vitamin D include: dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals. You might notice that individuals who are dairy-free, vegetarian and/or vegan are highly limited by the list of foods both fortified or naturally containing vitamin D. This makes it even more important for individuals with specific dietary restrictions to consider taking a vitamin D supplement.
Pollution negatively affects our health for several reasons. Researchers have been exploring the link between pollution and vitamin D deficiency. Put simply, pollution blocks out the ultraviolet sunlight rays our bodies need to produce vitamin D. According to this research, insufficient absorption of vitamin D from sunlight’s ultraviolet rays appears to be a major cause of vitamin D deficiency (4). So, if you live in an area with high pollution levels, it makes it even more difficult for you to get the vitamin D you need from sunlight alone.
Obesity is another factor to consider when assessing vitamin D levels. According to research, people who are obese may have trouble absorbing vitamin D. Studies suggest that body fat can bind to vitamin D, preventing it from getting into the blood of individuals who are obese (5). As a result, those who are in the obese body range may not be getting as much vitamin D as they expect. Another interesting connection between body weight and vitamin D deficiency that scientists are exploring is that increasing vitamin D intake may also assist in weight loss.
An unhealthy digestive tract can lead to issues absorbing vitamin D. Studies show that if you have medical conditions such as Crohn's disease, cystic fibrosis, or celiac disease, then your intestine's ability to absorb vitamin D from the food you eat is greatly decreased (6). Interestingly, you can improve your gut health by taking vitamin D supplements. Therefore, it is a huge benefit to track your vitamin D levels if you are having issues with your digestion.
It comes as no surprise that smoking is bad for your health. But did you know that smoking can also affect your vitamin D levels? This is because smoking decreases the calcium in your body. As a result, vitamin D is needed to repair the damage to your body caused by smoking. According to research from Science Daily, decreased levels of vitamin D may be the reason that smokers face higher chances of developing tobacco-related cancers (7). The best way to prevent tobacco-related cancers is to quit smoking. Still, if you are exposed to secondhand smoke or if you are a smoker yourself, it is very important to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D.
According to studies, adults with darker skin are at high risk of vitamin D deficiency (8). Due to increased levels of melanin, darker skin blocks sunlight absorption of vitamin D. As a result, people who have darker skin require more time outside in the sun to reach sufficient levels of vitamin D. Of course, it is not always possible to spend enough time in the sun to maintain healthy vitamin D levels. Increasing intakes of vitamin D with diet and supplements can be beneficial for anyone with lots of melanin in their skin.
Research indicates that as people get older, they lose some of their ability to manufacture vitamin D from sunlight (9). Vitamin D is especially important for seniors because it decreases the likelihood of bone disorders, osteoporosis, certain cancers, diabetes and cardiovascular issues. The good news is that supplements can help seniors maintain healthy levels of vitamin D.
It can be very helpful to take vitamin D during pregnancy. This is because deficiency is common in pregnant women, despite the widespread use of prenatal vitamins. In one study, as much as 50% of participating pregnant women became vitamin D deficient while taking prenatal vitamins (10). Most sources state that 2,000-4,000 IU per day of vitamin D is safe during pregnancy. Thus, maintaining safe and healthy levels of vitamin D may require a supplement when you are pregnant.
There are countless benefits of breastfeeding for both infants and mothers. However, because mothers are sharing nutrients while nursing, it is important to make sure they are at a healthy level themselves. Doctors often recommend a daily Vitamin D supplement for breastfeeding mothers. According to studies, a mother’s vitamin D levels may be negatively impacted while breastfeeding (11). So, Monitoring vitamin levels is essential and supplements are sometimes necessary for breastfeeding mothers to maintain healthy levels.
Vitamin D is essential to our health and wellness. Be aware of the reasons you may be at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency. You may benefit from a vitamin D supplement to bridge any gaps. If you believe you may be deficient, talk to your healthcare provider. They can run a simple blood test to confirm any vitamin deficiencies. Health By Principle offers an all natural Vitamin D supplement with magnesium and Extra Virgin Coconut Oil for maximum absorption.
- Wheeler, A. (2018, November 21). 42% of Americans Are Vitamin D Deficient. Are You Among Them? Mercy Medical Center. https://www.cantonmercy.org/healthchat/42-percent-of-americans-are-vitamin-d-deficient/
- Geographic location and vitamin D synthesis. (2008, December 1). ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0098299708000575
- Vitamin D. (2021, March 3). The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-d/
- Kurylowicz, A. (2011, September 26). Impact of Air Pollution on Vitamin D Status and Related Health Consequences | IntechOpen. IntechOpen. https://www.intechopen.com/books/the-impact-of-air-pollution-on-health-economy-environment-and-agricultural-sources/impact-of-air-pollution-on-vitamin-d-status-and-related-health-consequences
- Vanlint, S. (2013). Vitamin D and Obesity. MDPI. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/3/949
- Dunkin, M. A. (2009, July 16). Vitamin D Deficiency. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/vitamin-d-deficiency#2
- For smokers, low levels of vitamin D may lead to cancer. (2013, March 15). ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130315150816.htm
- Vitamin D: A Hidden Deficiency in Women of Color. (2020, September 25). Community Medical Centers. https://www.communitymedical.org/about-us/News/Vitamin-D-A-Hidden-Deficiency-in-Women-of-Color
- The Role of Vitamin D in the Aging Adult. (2014, December 1). PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4399494/#:%7E:text=Risk%20factors%20contributing%20to%20vitamin,)%20%5B22%2C%2021%5D.
- Kramer, C. K. (2016). The persistence of maternal vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency during pregnancy and lactation irrespective of season and supplementation. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26641010/
- Gellert, S. (2017, April 19). Breastfeeding woman are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency than non-breastfeeding women - insights from the German VitaMinFemin study. International Breastfeeding Journal. https://internationalbreastfeedingjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13006-017-0105-1
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