Are you getting enough vitamin D? Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating many bodily functions and in preventing disease. Unfortunately, most people don’t get enough of this vital nutrient.
Typically referred to as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D actually acts more like a hormone. Your body produces vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D interacts with enzymes in the body to promote many important processes, including calcium absorption and bone remodeling — the process in which new bone tissue is formed. Evidence suggests that nearly every tissue type in the body has receptors for vitamin D, which means they all need this vitamin to function properly.
Lack of vitamin D is linked to an increased risk of several serious diseases, including heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. You might think that here in Florida we’d receive enough sun exposure to get the amount of vitamin D we need. But even in the Sunshine State, people are falling short.
Approximately 75 percent of adults and teens in the U.S. don’t get enough vitamin D. Deficiencies tend to be highest among those with dark skin, since darker skin absorbs less sunlight. The amount of vitamin D your body produces also depends partly on your age, the time of year, and whether you use sunscreen. Any sunscreen, including those with a low SPF, can prevent your skin from producing vitamin D.
How much vitamin D do you need?
The recommended daily intake for vitamin D is around 600 IUs (international units). However, many health experts are now suggesting taking much more. In fact, some researchers recommend as much as 8,000 IUs!
One way to calculate your own ideal vitamin D intake is to take 1,000 IUs per 25 pounds of body weight, but not more than 10,000. For instance, if you weigh 150 pounds, you can benefit from taking 6,000 IUs. A typical multivitamin won’t provide this amount of vitamin D, so read labels carefully. Our vitamin D supplements contain 5,000 IUs, which is enough to maintain optimal blood levels for most people.
What is the best time to take vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. That means it’s best absorbed along with foods that contain fat, such as eggs, olive oil, avocado, coconut oil, fatty fish, meat, or dairy products.
Taking vitamin D with the largest meal of the day has been shown to improve absorption and result in a 50 percent increase in blood levels. As a general rule, take your vitamin D with your largest, fattiest meal. You can also pair vitamin D with an omega-3 fish oil supplement to promote better absorption.
Can you get vitamin D from the sun?
If you have fair skin and live in a sunny climate like Florida, it may be possible to receive all the vitamin D you need from the sun. Just 10 minutes of sunlight at midday without sunscreen while wearing shorts and a tank top can provide you with about 10,000 IUs. But since fair skin is more prone to sunburn, it’s important to use caution and protect yourself from skin cancer. If you plan on being outside for longer than 10 minutes, use sunscreen or cover your skin to avoid sunburn. If you have darker skin, continue taking vitamin D supplements even during the summer.
What foods contain calcium and vitamin D?
Calcium and vitamin D work together to protect your bones and keep them strong. Vitamin D is needed to help your body absorb calcium. Without vitamin D, your calcium levels will also be low, which puts you at risk for bone loss and osteoporosis.
Foods that contain high amounts of calcium include dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt. Leafy greens like kale, spinach, and collards are also high in calcium, as are okra, seeds, lentils, and certain types of fish like salmon and rainbow trout.
Good sources of vitamin D are eggs, mushrooms, and fatty fish like sardines, tuna, mackerel, salmon, and swordfish.
Many foods are also fortified with calcium and vitamin D to help you reach the RDI. Orange juice, cereal, milk, yogurt, and oatmeal are just some foods fortified with these essential nutrients.
What are the risk factors for vitamin D deficiency?
Certain risk factors can make you more likely to develop a vitamin D deficiency. For example, spending most of your time indoors without exposure to natural sunlight can increase your risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Other risk factors for vitamin D deficiency include:
- Working indoors
- Having dark skin
- Always wearing sunscreen
- Avoiding the sunlight
- Being overweight
- Limited dairy and fish intake
- Living where sun exposure may be limited at times
- Being an older adult
What are symptoms of vitamin D deficiency in adults?
Since vitamin D plays an important role in many bodily processes, there are a range of signs and symptoms that can indicate whether you’re suffering from a deficiency. Many people deficient in vitamin D report feeling tired and weak all the time, and tend to get sick on a regular basis. Chronic pain in bones and muscles is other common symptom of vitamin D deficiency.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency in adults include:
- Hair loss
- Sweating on your head
- Frequent illness
- Slow-healing wounds
- Chronic bone pain
- Chronic muscle pain
- Chronic back pain
- Bone loss or osteoporosis
- Gut problems
Can vitamin D deficiency cause depression?
Many people who suffer from depression also suffer from a vitamin D deficiency, while the reverse is also true. Vitamin D is important for brain function and for neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which play a role in mental health. A deficiency in vitamin D can upset the healthy balance of these brain chemicals, thereby increasing the risk of brain disorders like anxiety and depression.
Can vitamin D deficiency cause fatigue?
Vitamin D activates genes that regulate your immune system. A deficiency in vitamin D can lower your immunity, causing fatigue and weakness. You may also become sick more easily and frequently due to low vitamin D levels. Taking vitamin D supplements can help boost your immunity to combat fatigue and help you feel more energetic.
Can vitamin D help you lose weight?
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in weight loss. If you’re not losing weight despite exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep, and eating healthy foods, it’s possible you’re not getting enough vitamin D.
How is vitamin D linked to weight loss? The hypothalamus, which helps regulate your hormones, tells your body whether it should store or release fat depending on your level of vitamin D. If you don’t have enough vitamin D, the hypothalamus tells your body to hold on to fat storage. If you’re getting plenty of vitamin D, the hypothalamus tells your cells to burn fat.
This fat-hoarding or flab-melting mechanism triggered by vitamin D may have something to do with the seasons. When you’re not getting enough sunshine, your body interprets this as the onset of winter. Just like animals that hibernate, humans have been programmed to hold on to their fat storage in anticipation of food shortage when there is less daylight. Lack of vitamin D tells the brain it’s time to start hoarding fat.
Can you have too much vitamin D?
Though vitamin D is critical to helping you maintain good overall health, there is such as thing as too much vitamin D. Though it’s extremely rare, it is possible for vitamin D to build up in the bloodstream to the point it becomes toxic and increases the risk of life-threatening health problems.
Vitamin D intoxication, also known as hypervitaminosis D, occurs when you take about 60,000 IU per day over the course of several months. Working with a doctor who can monitor your blood levels will prevent you from experiencing vitamin D intoxication.
Too-high vitamin D intake can lead to elevated blood calcium levels. Symptoms associated with high blood calcium levels include dizziness, confusion, excessive thirst, frequent urination, and digestive problems such as abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.
Vitamin D intoxication can also cause diarrhea, constipation, bone loss, and kidney failure — the latter of which can lead to death when left untreated.
Does vitamin D cause constipation?
Vitamin D may only cause constipation if you take too much. However, vitamin D itself doesn’t directly cause constipation. Instead, constipation is caused by elevated blood calcium levels. Again, vitamin D intoxication is very rare and related to very high levels of vitamin D. If you’re suffering from constipation, take a good look at your diet and any other supplements you may be taking — iron is a common culprit behind constipation and other digestive issues.
Are vitamin D and D3 the same?
There are five forms of vitamin D: D1, D2, D3, D4, and D5. However, D2 and D3 are the two most important forms used by your body. Vitamin D2 is available in the form of a supplement called ergocalciferol, while vitamin D3 is available in the form of a supplement called cholecalciferol.
Vitamin D is naturally synthesized in your body as vitamin D3, so essentially, these vitamins are the same. How do you know which form of vitamin D you’re buying if the supplement label just says “vitamin D?” Read the ingredients list to confirm it says cholecalciferol, which is vitamin D3.
How long does it take for vitamin D to work?
There is no set time frame regarding how long it takes vitamin D to start working after you begin supplementation. Some people experience noticeable improvements in symptoms within a few weeks, while others may not be restored from their vitamin D deficiency for up to one year.
The time frame is dependent on a number of factors, including the severity of your vitamin D deficiency, the amount of vitamin D you’re taking, the quality of the supplement, and the foods you’re eating.
The presence of an underlying health problem contributing to a vitamin D deficiency can also play a major role in how long it takes for supplementation to work. For instance, medical conditions such as Crohn’s disease and celiac disease can prevent your intestine from properly absorbing vitamin D from the foods you eat. You may require treatment for these conditions before your body can recover from its vitamin D deficiency.
Are vitamin D supplements safe?
Vitamin D supplements are safe when used as directed by your doctor. The safest vitamin D supplements carry the USP verification seal, which means the supplements have been tested for safety and efficacy by the United States Pharmacopeia Convention. Some vitamin D supplements have been found to carry up to 180 percent more vitamin D than their labels specify, but those with the USP seal on them have the most accurate amounts that match up with their labels.
Choose vitamin D supplements that come in liquid, powder, or gel-cap form, since these forms allow for the best absorption. Solid-colored coated pills may be more difficult for your stomach to break down, and may result in less vitamin D absorption.
How can you determine whether you have a vitamin D deficiency?
A blood test can tell you whether you have low levels of vitamin D. Our team at Garcia Weight Loss and Wellness Centers can perform this test in our clinics. Vitamin D blood tests are easy to obtain at many doctors’ offices and are relatively inexpensive. Aim to test your vitamin D levels every three months and adjust your supplements as needed.
If results indicate that you are deficient in vitamin D, start using a daily supplement with your largest meal. Our vitamin D supplements contain D3 as cholecalciferol and contain 5,000 IU. Our Vivaliti DNA Health Optimization Test can also reveal whether you have a genetic variant associated with low vitamin D levels.
Our Ultra-Wellness services can determine whether you have low levels of vitamin D or other chemical imbalances that may be contributing to fatigue, poor sleep, illness, and other symptoms. Contact us today to request a no-cost consultation and learn more about how to reach your health and wellness goals!
This post was originally published in May, 2017, and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.