About 10 years ago I was constantly tired and depleted. I mostly chalked this up to the fact that I was chasing around a toddler all day on very little sleep.
Nonetheless, it seemed to me there might be something more going on. I’d heard extreme fatigue was one of the symptoms of low vitamin D levels, so I decided to get tested.
Lo and behold, my midwife told me my vitamin D levels were abysmally low, and I should start taking supplements right away. Pregnancy and breastfeeding can deplete your vitamin D sources, she said, and this deficiency can be problematic, especially if your levels were low in the first place.
Within a few months of supplementing, I began to feel more energetic, stronger and generally more upbeat. The only thing I did differently was take my supplements. I was a convert.
But what took me totally by surprise was that when my husband had his levels tested, he was even more deficient than I was! He started taking supplements too, and we both have been taking them religiously for the past decade.
It turns out we aren’t the only ones severely lacking in vitamin D. According to a 2011 study published in Nutrition Research, 41.6% of the general population is deficient in vitamin D.
Some medical providers test for Vitamin D deficiency through routine bloodwork, but some do not. If you are concerned about your Vitamin D status, you should check with your medical provider to ensure they check it as part of your bloodwork.
Here’s the low-down on vitamin D deficiency and how to know if you should ask your healthcare provider to check your Vitamin D status.
What Is Vitamin D?
Technically, vitamin D is not exactly a vitamin, which is defined as an essential dietary element. vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient found in various foods, including fatty fish, some dairy products, and fortified food such as cereals, but it is also produced photochemically in the skin. Much of our vitamin D is received from sunlight that our bodies synthesize into vitamin D after exposure.
Vitamin D acts like a hormone in many ways, regulating many of our essential bodily systems, such as the nervous system, immune system and muscular system. Most people are aware of the link between low levels of vitamin D and diseases like osteoporosis and rickets. But vitamin D also has been known to protect against diabetes, cancer and multiple sclerosis.
Pregnant women require higher levels of vitamin D for healthy pregnancies, and young children need a sufficient amount for optimal growth and development. Low energy, depression, getting sick more often, muscle aches and back pain have also been linked to vitamin D deficiency.
How To Know If You’re Deficient
Because so many ailments could possibly result from vitamin D deficiency, it can be easy to assume you are deficient. But the only way to know for sure is to get a blood test to determine your levels.
There are two vitamin D blood tests out there, but experts agree that measuring your levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D is most accurate. While there is some debate about what would be considered true deficiency, most medical professionals concur with the 2010 report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) that states levels below 20 ng/mL are considered deficient.
How To Increase Your Vitamin D Levels
If you get tested and find your vitamin D levels are low, you have a few options. Eating more foods with vitamin D can be tricky because there aren’t many food options, and food absorption is not how most of our body’s vitamin D is synthesized.
Sun exposure is useful, but for full absorption, you would need to be exposed to sun without sunblock, which could potentially increase your risk of skin cancer. It can be difficult to get enough sun during the winter as well, unless you live in a favorable geographical region.
For most of us, vitamin supplementation is the way to go. In terms of dosage, getting a recommendation from your doctor based on your medical history and blood tests results is best. You can also consult this table published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) outlining recommended dosage based on age. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) vitamin D overdose is rare, and usually only occurs after consuming 10,000 to 40,000 IU/day of vitamin D supplements.
Is It All Hype?
Ask any medical professional their opinion about vitamin D testing and supplementation, and you will get varying opinions. Some believe vitamin D deficiency fears are overblown, while others think not enough people are being properly treated for vitamin D deficiency. Medical experts also disagree on what the cutoff numbers should be for true deficiency, as well as proper supplementation protocols.
All of this information can be confusing for a consumer! If you feel the doctor you’re seeing doesn’t take your concerns seriously, make sure to get more than one opinion, or ask for doctor recommendations from friends and family.
I can personally attest that my vitamin D supplements are a vital part of my health maintenance routine. Although I would never tell someone to pop vitamin D supplements without reason, I think it makes sense for most of us to at least get tested and then go from there.
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