Are You at Risk for a Vitamin D Deficiency?
Have you been feeling tired a lot lately? Are you suffering from unexplained aches and pains? Do you have difficulty just getting out of bed in the morning? Has your doctor been telling you that it is all in your head? Have you been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) or Fibromyalgia (FM)?
There is good news and bad news.
Let’s start with the bad news.
You may be suffering from something known as Vitamin D deficiency. Many people who have received diagnoses of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia have never had a simple Vitamin D test and suffer unnecessary pain or take dangerous medications for conditions they don’t even have.
Why should you care about Vitamin D deficiency?
In addition to the chronic fatigue and aches and pains that make you feel like you are 80 years old when you are nowhere near that age, Vitamin D deficiency leads to an increased risk in cardiovascular disease and cancer, along with mental impairment (especially as we age), and severe asthma (especially in children) are some good reasons to be concerned.
Furthermore, making sure you have enough Vitamin D can help prevent or treat conditions like glucose intolerance, Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and hypertension. Vitamin D also helps us to build strong bone because without it we have a hard time obtaining calcium from our diet. If we are not absorbing enough calcium, then we are at a higher risk for osteoporosis.
Now for the good news!
It’s easy to fix.
Why do I have it?
Many people believe that vitamin D deficiency is caused by people eating a vegan (people who don’t consume animal products) or plant-based diet, or avoidance of milk-based products due to allergies.
There is almost always some truth to every commonly held belief. Just like stereotypes, they may not be true, but there are always a few people who fit the stereotype and we all just assume the stereotype to be true as a result.
Yes, there are people who are vegan or allergic to milk who have Vitamin D deficiency, but that does not mean that everyone who is vegan or allergic to milk is Vitamin D deficient. There are steak-eating, milk-drinking folks who still suffer from the condition.
Vitamin D deficiency is caused primarily by three things:
A Poor Diet
If you eat powdered donuts and coffee for breakfast, a bag of chips and diet soda for lunch, and then have an iceberg lettuce salad and a baked potato for dinner, your diet is woefully lacking in a number of nutrients – and one of them is Vitamin D.
Lack of Sufficient Sunlight
If you are a person who spends most of his or her time indoors, have a night job and sleep during the day, cover your body in a way that prevents your skin from getting sunlight, or live in an area that doesn’t t much sunlight for months on end, you are at an increased risk for Vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D begins to be produced by when UV rays penetrate the skin’s surface. However, too much UV light can be harmful, so our skin produces a substance called melanin to protect itself. This is what makes our skin get darker when we are out in the sun.The darker your skin, the more melanin you have, and the harder it is for the UV rays to start the process of Vitamin D formation.
So what do you do to fix a Vitamin D deficiency?
There are several easy ways to remedy a Vitamin D deficiency. Changing your skin type is not one of them, but don’t worry – there are other simple options.
Eat a well-balanced diet that is rich in Vitamin D
Would you believe that one of the best sources of Vitamin D is not milk? Nope! Not even close.Would you have guessed it was mushrooms? Believe it or not, 1 cup of Maitake mushrooms have SEVEN TIMES as much Vitamin D as milk (786 IU’s). Portabella’s rank a close second, with 634 IU’s of Vitamin D.What if you don’t like regular cow’s milk or are trying to avoid dairy altogether due to allergies or diet preference? No problem!
Most alternative milks (soy, almond, oat, etc.) are fortified with Vitamin D just like cow’s milk and yogurt are. Fortified soy milk, for example, has 120 IU’s of Vitamin D whereas fortified cow’s milk has 127 IU’s. Not a significant difference. Soy and cow’s milk yogurt (both fortified) come in at 80 IU’s per 6 oz, so no worries there, either.
Other good sources of Vitamin D can be found in most fortified orange juices (100 IU’s for a cup) and fortified breakfast cereals (at about 40 IU’s for about 3/4 of a cup).
Get a bit of sunshine every day
Studies show that getting a small daily dose of sunshine can dramatically improve your Vitamin D levels.There is a catch to this, though. You will need to do a bit of research to figure out what is optimal for your skin type at your latitude (how close or far you are from the equator) during each season. You see, UV intensity can vary a lot from one place on the globe to the next. If you are in Barbados, for example, you would need a lot less sunlight exposure than if you were standing in Fairbanks, Alaska in fall when the sun is not very direct.
We have already discussed the fact that skin color affects how much UV light is needed to produce Vitamin D, so spend a few minutes on google and do some research for what is recommended for your skin color and your location on the globe. Even if you live in the Southern United States, you might be surprised to learn that during the winter months – November through February – sunlight is not strong enough to produce vitamin D in our bodies.
Even if you don’t know what your optimum exposure duration should be, get out a little each day and soak up a few rays. Never stay out long enough to burn, though. That can do serious damage. Use your smarts about your own skin to stay safe in the sun. Wearing sunscreen prevents UV rays from reaching the skin, so when we say sun exposure, we mean without sunscreen, so know your personal limits to prevent getting burned.
Take a supplement
While the preferred method for obtaining vitamins and minerals is through diet, most of us are too tied up with hectic lives to eat as well as we intend. Then, throw in the time needed to commute to work, take kids to soccer, shop for groceries, cook dinner, bathe the kids, do laundry, etc., there isn’t much time left to get sun every day. In these cases, you may need a supplement.It is possible to get too much Vitamin D, so be sure to consult a doctor before taking any supplements. People who have kidney stones should not exceed 1,000 IU’s per day.
It is generally considered safe for most people to consume between 2,000 and 4,000 IU’s per day, but check first with your doctor. He or she can run a simple blood test to tell you where your levels are now and how much supplementation is recommended.
Vitamin D comes in two forms: Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). D2 is made from yeast and is vegan. D3 is most commonly made from wool, but recent developments have led to the production of vegan D3 through lichen (a plant). Both forms are well utilized by the body; however, there are conflicting studies regarding how well each form is absorbed. The current recommendation for people choosing to use D2 is to take a slightly higher dose until there is a consensus on the data.