Have you heard of the “sunshine” vitamin? It’s… vitamin D!
Vitamin D is produced by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. The body does not require a huge amount of vitamin D, in fact, about five minutes of sunlight every day is enough for most people.
However, those who have to endure long, dark winter months, or those who are more susceptible to developing a vitamin D deficiency, may need more than those five minutes of sun every day.
So, how do you know if you have a vitamin D deficiency? This can be difficult to pinpoint, as vitamin D deficiency does not have any clear “symptoms.” You may experience a lower mood or increased feelings of fatigue, but those symptoms could also be attributed to stress or lack of sleep.
Your physician can order blood work to check for a vitamin D deficiency. (This testing is usually included in the blood work you would have performed for an annual physical.)
Feldman recommends that if patients do discover a deficiency from a blood test, they get guidance from their physician about exactly how much of a supplement to take. Do not start taking a supplement without speaking with your physician first!
The Institute of Medicine states that for individuals between the ages of nine and seventy, 600 units of vitamin D is considered “adequate intake.” Intake should not exceed 4,000 units a day.
Vitamin D deficiencies may also increase risk of cardiovascular diseases like heart attack and stroke. Reduced pancreatic function, and increased risk of several neurological and psychiatric disorders have also been connected to vitamin D deficiency.
The impact of a vitamin D deficiency is most clearly seen in the way vitamin D relates to calcium. Without sufficient vitamin D, the body cannot absorb and utilize calcium effectively. Basically, it doesn’t matter how much calcium you take in; if you are vitamin D deficient, you will be calcium deficient, as well.
The health complications of calcium deficiency range from depressed mood, to a compromised immune system, to osteoporosis (chronic loss of bone mass.)
From a cancer standpoint, research has found that being deficient not only increases risk for breast and colon cancers, it may also negatively affect the prognosis of said cancers.
Vitamin D contributes to a stronger immune system, and your immunity could be compromised if you aren’t getting enough. In fact, research found that when expectant mothers took a vitamin D supplement, their babies had a decreased risk of developing asthma!
Getting sufficient amounts of vitamin D is especially important for diabetics. It stimulates the pancreas and encourages insulin production, thereby helping to keep blood sugar under better control!
If those five minutes a day of sunlight isn’t enough, you can eat your Vitamin D!
Vitamin D-rich foods include:
- Portabella, Crimini, and White Button mushrooms
- Dark greens like spinach
- Fish like trout, salmon, mackerel, or tuna
(Many of these foods also contain healthy fats, as well as a variety of vitamins and minerals!)
While vitamin D may not be as widely-known or advertised, it is an important nutrient and deserves a place in your next chat with your physician!