When it comes to nutrition and health, there are a lot of messages to sift through in our media and community. It is often difficult to determine what is accurate when it comes to popularized information or if something is just a passing trend.
Vitamin D has been catching the eye of a lot of researchers and medical professionals for some time now (for good reason!) and that spotlight is beginning to illuminate our decisions.
But what does Vitamin D deficiency look like? How do we get tested to see if we’re deficient? How do we know what supplements to buy and how much to take? This article will address those questions, but first, let’s talk about the importance of having adequate vitamin D in our bodies.
What Vitamin D is and What It Does
Vitamin D is required for the regulation of calcium absorption and use, which affects bone health, endocrine health, and cardiovascular health. But unlike any other vitamin in our bodies, it acts more like a hormone. What this means is that it enhances cellular communication and this is key to providing a highly integrated immune system. This is also why it is commonly referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” — it has a strong effect on our mental and emotional health. Additionally, it is showing great success in the treatment of psoriasis, and has also been shown to have a relationship in preventing and moderating autoimmune disorders and cancer.
Vitamin D is converted in the liver and kidneys, and this conversion is stimulated by 10-15 minutes of direct sun exposure (ultra-violet B rays) on the skin. Countries of a higher latitude spend very little time under ultra-violet B rays, so vitamin D deficiency may be directly proportional to your ancestry and where you live.
It is also important to note that vitamin D is first absorbed in the gut, so deficiency may be common in folks who have a history of, or are currently experiencing, any gastrointestinal distress (which includes gas/bloating after eating, stomach cramps, constipation/diarrhea, reflux, fatigue after meals, changes in appetite, weight gain/weight loss).
What Vitamin D Deficiency Looks Like
While many foods are fortified with vitamin D, vitamin D deficiency is actually quite common. The best source of naturally occurring vitamin D is provided by eating oily fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and anchovies) — but again, optimal gut health is key in your body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
The typical symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include frequent infections and illness, weak bones (in children), cognitive impairment, daytime sleepiness, weight loss or weight gain, muscle weakness, high blood pressure, blood sugar issues, chronic pain, cancer, or the onset of autoimmune processes.
While the body has a useful shutoff switch that occurs when it has reached adequate levels of sun exposure, the same regulation does not happen when you’re supplementing, and it is possible to take too much vitamin D. This can have its own set of issues (nausea, vomiting, muscle and bone pain, weakness, constipation, kidney problems, and abnormal heart rhythms) and is why it is strongly advised to seek the advice and assistance from your physician before supplementing, and equally important to be tested every six months while supplementing.
Vitamin D Testing and Supplementation
Your naturopathic or medical physician can order a simple blood test to check vitamin D levels. Typically, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 is the preferred test since it is testing active vitamin D levels in the body. If it is low, further evaluation can be done to determine whether you have frank vitamin D deficiency or if you’re experiencing a conversion problem. Either way, it is usually easily treated, and your physician will guide you in the proper dosage since each individual has different needs and symptoms.
Most vitamin D supplements are readily absorbed by the body, but since it is considered a fat-soluble vitamin, it is best absorbed when taken with a meal, especially one that is sufficient in healthy fats (such as an avocado).
Your health is your mind and body optimized and balanced. Nourish your bones, heart, and brain with information and possibly some vitamin D!
Photos by NIN1337, dantada, and xandert.