Conservative estimates say that as many as 36% of Americans are vitamin D deficient. And vitamin D is critical for healthy bones. How can you tell if you’re lacking vitamin D? Why is your vitamin D level low? And what’s the best way to make sure you’re getting enough?
Vitamin D works hand in hand with calcium to keep your bones strong; people with low levels of vitamin D fall more often; and they suffer more fractures. When you’re battling osteoporosis (or declining bone strength of any kind) and all the challenges that come with it, sufficient vitamin D in your system has to be a critical health consideration.
Beyond bone loss, recent research shows that low levels of vitamin D may also be connected with breast, colon, and prostate cancer; multiple sclerosis; type 2 diabetes; obesity and high blood pressure, and depression.
And if the specter of weakened bones and the previously mentioned health problems aren’t enough to get you interested in vitamin D, try this: according to an article on the University of Maryland Medical Center Web site, “Population studies suggest that people with lower levels of vitamin D have a higher risk of dying from any cause compared to those with higher levels of vitamin D.”
Have I got your attention?
So, just what is vitamin D deficiency, anyway? According to the National Institutes of Health, if your score on a vitamin D blood test is less than 30, you’re “at risk of deficiency.” Between 30 and 50 you’re considered “at risk of inadequacy;” and over 50 is considered “sufficient for 97.5% of the population.”
There are those who’d argue that, given the latest research connecting vitamin D with all kinds of adverse health conditions, the entire scale should be pegged higher, with those scoring under 50 considered vitamin D deficient. But for now, it’s safe to go with the NIH’s guidelines.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency can be very sneaky. Most people first learn of it as the result of a blood test. If your annual physical doesn’t include screening for vitamin D levels, be sure to ask your doctor to include it.
Physical symptoms of vitamin D deficiency might include muscle aches and pains; fatigue and lack of energy; sleep problems; depression; lowered resistance to illness, or a surprising bone fracture, e.g., the result of a light fall or other not particularly serious accident.
Pretty vague, right? These symptoms could also be attributable to other health issues. Again, the best way to check for vitamin D deficiency is with a blood test. So if you’re experiencing one or more of the symptoms listed, and other causes have been ruled out, ask your doctor to check your vitamin D.
Causes of vitamin D deficiency
What causes vitamin D deficiency? Chiefly, lack of sunlight; and insufficient vitamin D in the diet, either from the foods you eat, or supplements. In addition, as we age our skin gradually thins, and our ability to make vitamin D from sunlight decreases. Thus, older people are naturally at greater risk for vitamin D deficiency.