Vitamin D deficiency is extremely common and research is showing that it may be associated with a variety of conditions. Here’s how low vitamin D affects you and what you can do about it.
Decades ago, no one was really concerned about vitamin D. It was expected that we were getting sufficient amounts and generally unknown what would happen if we didn’t. Most of our ancestors spent their days outdoors, exposed to sunlight with little protection, which is essential for vitamin D production. Today, we spend most of our days crammed into dark offices, bundled up when it’s cold, or slathering on sunscreen when we’re exposed. This coupled with the fact that there aren’t very many foods high in vitamin D could be the reason an estimated one billion people had low vitamin D.
Over the past few years, studies exploring low vitamin D levels have uncovered the adverse effects vitamin D deficiency can have on our bodies—even attributing to some non-skeletal conditions doctors see every day, making it more important to test and monitor these levels.
How does vitamin D affect our bodies and how can we make sure we’re getting enough? Luckily, if you are deficient, it is possible to naturally increase your levels with foods high in vitamin D and vitamin D supplements.
What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D, aka the sunshine vitamin, is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it’s absorbed by the body through fatty tissue and then stored in these tissues or the liver. It initially comes from exposure to natural sunlight, as your body relies on the sun’s UV light to produce the vitamin in our skin. Unlike most vitamins, vitamin D functions more like a hormone, where every cell in your body has a receptor that allows it to absorb the mineral. It’s also less commonly found in some foods.
What does vitamin D do?
One of the most important functions of vitamin D is its role in maintaining and building bone strength. It allows your body to absorb calcium from your gut and kidneys, helping to strengthen your bones. This process can only happen when vitamin D is present, so while vitamin D levels typically vary due to things like the season, time of day, or where you live, it’s crucial that you have enough of it in your body. Vitamin D is also known to support your immune system, reduce inflammation, and improve some chronic conditions like heart disease or depression.
Vitamin D deficiency symptoms
If you spend most of your time indoors, eat very little fish or dairy, or live at a latitude above 37 degrees north or below 37 degrees south (i.e. further from the equator) you are more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency. You may have one without realizing it, as low vitamin D symptoms are often subtle or go unnoticed.
Common low vitamin D Symptoms
- Low immunity and getting sick often
- Excessive fatigue
- Hormonal imbalance
- Low bone mineral density