Are you getting enough vitamin D? How do you even know? Most of us are deficient in this essential nutrient, especially during the winter months when sunlight is scarce. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to many disease processes.
It also plays a role in weight gain. If you’re struggling with weight loss, there’s a very good chance you’re also struggling to store adequate amounts of vitamin D in your body.
How do you know if you’re deficient in vitamin D? Take a look at the symptoms of low vitamin D or vitamin D deficiency, why this nutrient is a key weight-loss ingredient, and how we can get enough in a natural and healthy way.
Why Are We So Vitamin D Deficient?
Many people across the globe are deficient in this essential vitamin for a number of reasons. First off, it’s hard to get vitamin D through sources of food alone. While egg yolks and some fatty fish contain vitamin D, they don’t contain enough to give us what we need over the long term.
The primary source of this essential nutrient is the sun itself. And we’ve all been taught to stay out of the sun because the sun causes skin cancer, right? Like anything and everything, moderation is key — including sun exposure. To prevent a vitamin D deficiency, you need to let your skin drink in the sun in moderate amounts, without sunscreen.
If you think you may be low in vitamin D, you can ask for a blood test from your doctor to confirm your vitamin D levels. X-rays to check for bone loss are also available, as bone loss is a surefire sign you need more vitamin D. And you can take the proper steps to increase your vitamin D intake, which we’ll discuss further on.
Risk Factors for Vitamin D Deficiency
If you check the boxes for any of the following, you’re at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency. And don’t stress yourself out if you do. There are ways to lower your risk!
- You have naturally dark skin (you have high melanin levels, which makes vitamin D absorption more difficult)
- You’re elderly, or over the age of 70
- You’re overweight or obese
- You don’t drink milk
- You don’t eat fish
- You don’t eat egg yolks
- You spend most of your time indoors
- When you do happen to be outside, you lather yourself in sunscreen
- You live in a northern climate where sunshine is rare
- You live in a large city, where tall buildings obstruct direct sunlight
- You live in a place that’s heavily polluted
A 2011 study, published in Nutrition Research, delves deeper into the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency among adults in the United States. For the general population, vitamin D deficiency impacts 41.6%. For certain minority groups, the numbers soar.
In this particular study, a whopping 69.2% of U.S. Hispanics, and a shockingly high 82.1% of African Americans were found to be deficient in vitamin D.
These statistics need attention, given that low vitamin D levels may very well be connected to the biggest killers out there: many different forms of cancer, and the number one cause of death in America — heart disease.
Other diseases and maladies linked to low vitamin D include:
- High blood pressure
- Metabolic syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Depression and anxiety
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
As you can see, having adequate vitamin D levels is absolutely necessary for optimal health and well-being. Not only do you need enough vitamin D to have a healthy physical body, you also need enough to balance your moods and mental outlook. There’s a reason we all feel so much brighter and optimistic during sunny days as opposed to cold, grey ones!
Low Vitamin D Symptoms
A number of scientific studies have come to the conclusion that certain health issues are a clear sign of low vitamin D. The following 11 symptoms point to a vitamin D deficiency:
1. You’re Losing Your Hair
Sometimes, hair falls out during times of stress. Other times, hair loss is a sign of a nutrient deficiency. Low vitamin D is one such deficiency linked to hair loss.
While research is lacking on the subject, a 2013 study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, links hair loss in women to low vitamin D levels. If you’re losing your hair and you don’t know why, have your vitamin D levels checked, or take the proper steps to increase your intake.
2. You’re Down and Depressed
There are times in our lives when a heavy veil falls over our mind and body. This could be due to loss and/or times of uncertainty. But for many, it occurs once a year, as soon as the days become shorter and the sun loses its presence in our lives. This is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
SAD is a very real condition for a lot of people. And lack of vitamin D from sun exposure is the primary culprit. It makes sense, then, that low vitamin D and depression go hand-in-hand.
A 2008 study, published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, shows the direct correlation between low vitamin D and depression. Participants in the study who were overweight and/or obese found significant relief from their blues after taking high doses of vitamin D over a medically supervised period of one year.
3. You’re Experiencing Weight Gain
Many studies show that overweight and obese people have low vitamin D levels when compared to their slimmer counterparts. And some studies link increased belly fat to vitamin D deficiency. In fact, according to a Medical News Today article, an increase in overall body fat and low vitamin D seem to go hand in hand.
If you’re looking to lose weight, it’s time to up your vitamin D intake, either through sun exposure and/or a high-quality supplement.
4. You Experience Strange Muscle Pains
Mounting evidence shows a strong link between muscle pain and low vitamin D levels. If your child is experiencing growing pains, a vitamin D supplement may be in order. A study published in the journal Medical Principles and Practice found children who took a one-time dose of vitamin D supplement experienced a decrease in their growing pains.
5. You’re Losing Bone Mass
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for bone health. You need enough of it to maintain bone density and integrity as you age. Vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption, as well as bone metabolism. Loss of bone mass is a surefire sign you need more vitamin D. So, get your levels checked and start building those bones again. You need them to be strong as you age!
6. When You Get a Wound, It’s Slow to Heal
If you’ve had surgery or some other trauma, and your body is slow to heal, you may be low in vitamin D. This makes sense, given that your immune system needs vitamin D to function optimally. If this sounds like you, get outside and get some sun on your skin every day. A vitamin D supplement may also be in order.
7. You Get Sick Often
Vitamin D is an efficient immune system booster. When you’re low in vitamin D, your immunity is impaired, making it more difficult to fight off the bacteria that make us sick. Do you get the flu or the common cold often? This is a sign you’re low in vitamin D. Pneumonia and bronchitis are also linked to vitamin D, as a study published in the journal Tropical Doctor suggests.
8. You Get Infections Often
According to a 2011 study published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, vitamin D works in tandem with your blood cells to fight off infection. If you don’t feed these infection-fighting cells with vitamin D, they have a harder time warding off infections.
9. You Have Back Pain
Many people experience an increase in back pain with age. Is it an inevitable part of the aging process, or something that can be alleviated with vitamin D supplementation? A 2015 study, published in the journal Pain Physician, found a direct correlation between chronic low back pain and low vitamin D levels.
10. You Have Pain in Your Bones
Low vitamin D may cause bone pain. Because vitamin D is necessary for bone health, and a deficiency is linked to osteoporosis, osteomalacia, osteopenia, and osteoarthritis, it follows that any kind of bone issues, bone pain included, could be a strong sign of low vitamin D. Pay attention to your bones, and give them what they need.
11. You’re Often Tired and Feel Sluggish
Many studies have shown a direct link between fatigue and low levels of vitamin D in the bloodstream. One such study, published in The Journal of Endocrinological Investigation, showed that women low in vitamin D reported fatigue and overall lower quality of life.
Chronic fatigue impacts your life dramatically, and not in a good way. An easy fix to boost energy is to increase vitamin D intake.
How to Get More of the “Sunshine” Vitamin
One way to increase vitamin D is obvious: get more sunshine! Sun is healthy for your skin. Your skin needs rays of sunlight to make vitamin D. Exposing your skin to the sun — without sunscreen — is the best way to get more of the sunshine vitamin.
However, that doesn’t mean you can spend as much time in the sun as you want. It’s important to keep yourself from getting sunburned. If you’re going to be outside in the sun for more than fifteen minutes, cover up with protective clothing or use sunscreen.
Increase Your Vitamin D Levels With Food
While few foods contain vitamin D, they do exist. They are:
- Egg yolks
- Fortified cereals
- Fortified orange juice
- Fortified milk
- Fortified yogurt
Because it’s difficult to get the recommended amounts of vitamin D from your diet and sunshine alone — especially if you live far from the equator — a supplement is always a good idea. In fact, some experts say if you were to take just one supplement a day, vitamin D should be your number one choice.
How Much Vitamin D is Optimal?
The recommended amount of vitamin D is 600 International Units per day. This number goes up for children, teens, adults, and pregnant or breastfeeding women.
If you’re over the age of 70, you need more. The recommended amount of vitamin D for the elderly is 800 IUs per day. If you’re super deficient, you may need a higher dosage to start with.
Some health experts recommend getting even more than this. In fact, some researchers recommend getting as much as 8,000 IUs daily! One way to calculate your own vitamin D needs is to take 1,000 IUs per 25 pounds of body weight, not to exceed 10,000 IUs.
So if you weigh 150 pounds, aim for 6,000 IUs. A multivitamin typically won’t provide this much, so look for a high-quality vitamin D supplement.
You can get enough vitamin D during sunny days just by being outside. Fifteen minutes of direct sunlight on your skin during the height of the day can provide your body with about 10,000 IUs.
If you have naturally darker skin, you need to be outside longer — for anywhere from forty minutes to an hour. In the winter, supplementation is a good idea if you live far from the equator.
Can Vitamin D Help With Losing Weight?
If you’re asking yourself how vitamin D contributes to weight loss, you’re asking a very good question indeed. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that women supplementing with vitamin D and calcium together lost more weight than women in the placebo group.
A part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which helps regulate hormones, is also influenced by vitamin D. If vitamin D levels are low, the hypothalamus tells your body to hold on to its stores of fat. If you’re getting enough vitamin D, the hypothalamus tells the body to release fat stores.
As always, awareness is key! Now that you’re familiar with the many symptoms of low vitamin D, you can make sure you’re getting enough. Cross this weight-loss saboteur off your list for good. Not only will your scale love you, but so will your body and mind!
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