Incidences of Vitamin D deficiency has been increasing recently. This has to be blamed more to our lifestyle. We do not get enough quota of sunshine and our food is unable to meet the body requirement. In addition to rickets (in children) and osteomalacia (in adults), deficiency of vitamin D may also increase the risk of various other health conditions such as cancer, type-II diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease and autoimmune diseases like type-I diabetes, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease. Vitamin D deficiency has now become a global health problem affecting billions of people all over the world.
Vitamin D, in addition to protecting your body against a wide range of health problems is highly critical for the development of strong and healthy bones. It is popularly known as the sunshine vitamin because it is produced by your body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Although referred to as a vitamin, Vitamin D is actually a steroid hormone that plays an important role in maintaining your overall health and well-being. Trying to get an adequate supply of vitamin D through diet is quite difficult because it is found naturally in only a few foods such as egg yolks, certain types of fish, fish liver oils, and fortified dairy and grain products. So for people who don’t go out in the sun or those following a vegan diet or those having allergic reactions to dairy products, there is a greater chance that their body may suffer from a deficiency of vitamin D.
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How does vitamin D work?
Before we move mull over symptoms and treatment of vitamin D deficiency, it would be useful to understand how Vitamin D works for our body. Vitamin D is mainly produced by your skin when it is exposed to sunlight. But in order for it to be utilized by your body, it has to go through a number of chemical processes which changes it. The vitamin D produced by your skin is first send to your liver. If you eat foods that contain vitamin D or take vitamin D supplements, your digestive system also sends the nutrient to the liver. In the liver, it is converted into a substance known as 25(OH)D. The vitamin D levels in your body is usually referred to the amount of 25(OH)D in your blood. The next step is the transport of 25(OH)D to all parts of your body, where it is converted into activated vitamin D or Calcitriol by different tissues. Activated vitamin D works in two ways. It controls the calcium levels in your blood, bones and intestine. It also promotes proper communication between the different cells all over your body. Thus vitamin D undergoes various processes to be converted from its original form to the substance that helps your body perform at its best.
Vitamin D was first associated with bone health and later studies confirmed that it was involved in many other bodily functions as well as offering protection against many diseases, including cancer. Here are some of the reasons why your body should get an adequate supply of vitamin D.
Vitamin D for healthy bones
Vitamin D is essential for building strong bones, as it helps your body absorb calcium from the food you eat. Adults need a daily dose of this vitamin to prevent brittle bones and fractures, while children need it to build strong bones and prevent bone related disorders like rickets, which leads to soft and weak bones as well as skeletal deformities.
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Vitamin D protects against multiple sclerosis
According to studies, maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D in the body, may not only offer a protective effect but also lower the risk of developing multiple sclerosis. It was also found that for people who already suffer from this condition, vitamin D may help decrease the frequency and severity of their symptoms.
Vitamin D may help with weight loss
Deficiency of vitamin D has been associated with an increased risk of obesity and complications associated with it. Studies suggest that taking vitamin D supplement along with a calorie restricted diet may help obese people lose weight.
Vitamin D lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes
Studies have shown that vitamin D plays a key role in glucose metabolism. Boosting your vitamin D levels may help lower the risk of diabetes and other such metabolic disorders. Another study suggested that vitamin D and calcium supplementation along with regular exercise can prevent pre-diabetes from developing into full-blown diabetes. The study found that for every unit increase in vitamin D levels, the risk of pre-diabetes progressing into diabetes reduced by 8 percent.
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Vitamin D and mental health
Vitamin D also plays an important role in maintaining good mental health. Large doses of vitamin D could reduce the symptoms of mild depression. The exact way in which vitamin D works in the brain is not fully understood, but one theory is that it affects the levels as well as functioning of chemicals known as monoamines. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, there may be an association between vitamin D and the levels of serotonin, the mood-boosting neurotransmitter in the brain.
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Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency
The symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are subtle in most people. The only way to know if you are vitamin D deficient is by testing your blood. However, a severe deficiency of this nutrient leads to weak bones , muscles weakness and bone pain. In children, lack of vitamin D leads to rickets and other skeletal problems. The other symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include excessive sweating, muscle or joint pain, fatigue, weight gain, insomnia, headache, poor concentration and depression.
How to treat Vitamin D deficiency
As mentioned before, vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin and the best way to solve the problem of its deficiency is to get plenty of natural sunlight exposure. Many people believe that they can get adequate amounts of this nutrient from diet alone. But the truth is, with the exclusion of fatty fish, the amount of vitamin D in most food items, including fortified dairy products, is very low or almost nil. If for some reason you can’t get enough sun exposure, then the next best solution would be to take vitamin D supplements.
The most natural way to get vitamin D is to expose your skin to the ultraviolet B rays of the Sun. When your whole body is exposed to the summer sun, large amounts of vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol is produced in your skin. It is not necessary to tan or burn your skin to get the vitamin D you require. Your body will be able to produce about 10,000 to 25,000 IU of vitamin D just by exposing your skin to the sunlight for a short period of time. As you expose a larger area of your skin to sunlight, the amount of vitamin D produced also increases. The amount of vitamin D produced by your body when it is exposed to sunlight depends on a number of factors such as the color of your skin, time of day, place you live, age and amount if skin exposed.
If sun exposure is not a viable option for you, then you could use indoor tanning beds to produce vitamin D. Tanning beds emit ultraviolet radiation for producing a tan. So just like natural sunlight, this method can also help your skin make vitamin D within a short period of time. However, this method is not much recommended, as studies have found that the excessive use of tanning beds may increase the risk of skin cancer.
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The third option to give your body the vitamin D it needs is to take vitamin D supplements. Both vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 supplements are available, but according to “The Vitamin D Council”, taking vitamin D3 is more effective when compared to vitamin D2. Moreover, the long-term use of vitamin D2 have been shown to decrease the levels of the nutrient in the body. The amount of vitamin D that you need to take depends on the severity of the deficiency as well as any kind of health risks you are prone to. It is recommended that the supplement be taken with a food containing fat as it helps in the better absorption of the nutrient. There are vitamin D supplements that can be taken on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. When you take Vitamin D supplements, it is easily absorbed in the body irrespective of what time of day you take it. Vitamin D3 supplements are not vegetarian and so for those who have ethical concerns with taking this supplement, sun exposure is the ideal option or vitamin D2 can be an alternate choice.
Lack of vitamin D affects not just the bones, but there are far more health risks you may become susceptible to. According to researchers, the optimal range of this nutrient required for general health is somewhere between 50 and 70 ng/ml. Getting this vitamin is very easy too. Regular sun exposure of your sun is the best way. If that is not possible, there are vitamin D supplements you can take orally. Experts recommend that increasing the levels of vitamin D in the body could help prevent many chronic diseases that are life threatening.