Understanding vitamin D deficiency and its implications

Are you getting enough vitamin D? For millions of Americans, experts say the answer is no.

This isn’t helped by so many people working indoors every day, says Dr. Kevin Cooke, a physician at Aviv Clinics who specializes in patients’ dietary and nutrition needs.

“We just don’t get outside as much, and the sun is one of those things that help,” he explains. Exposure to sunlight, your diet, and your skin help your body convert vitamin D to its active form. “So by nature of working indoors and then going into the winter months not having as much sun exposure, there’s a lot of people that are vitamin D deficient.”

Vitamin D Deficiency: Expert Insights on Symptoms and Treatment

In the United States, about 35% of adults are vitamin D deficient, according to the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine website.

Certain populations, including nursing home residents and hospitalized patients, are estimated to have even higher deficiency rates. Not only are these groups typically indoors more, but Cooke explains that older individuals can be at a higher risk for vitamin D deficiency due to age-related changes in the skin and stomach absorption.

People with darker skin are also at a higher risk for vitamin D deficiency, according to the National Library of Medicine and the Cleveland Clinic. Additionally, certain medical conditions, including obesity and liver or kidney disease, can lead to deficiency.

What is vitamin D, and why is it important?

Vitamin D’s primary role is to assist our body with calcium and bone maintenance, Cooke notes. But new research suggests it has other benefits as well.

“A lot of newer studies (show) lack of vitamin D causing decreased energy and mood,” he says, which may be linked to seasonal affective disorder.

“There’s some newer data pointing to seasonal affective disorder or depression in the winter months,” he adds. “It can really be a cause or point to seasonal affective disorder and depression.”

Signs of vitamin D deficiency

Vitamin D deficiency is fairly common, and many don’t feel symptoms even if they’re low on it. A blood test can check your vitamin D level.

“Most people if they’re seeing a physician once a year should and hopefully do get their vitamin D levels checked,” he advises.

A lack of vitamin D can lead to poor bone health, including bone pain and thinning. Cooke says one of the first signs you may be deficient is if you experience bone aches or worsening arthritis. Additionally, “fatigue, low energy” can be other indicators of a vitamin D deficiency.

How can I increase my vitamin D?

The best way to prevent vitamin D deficiency is to ensure you’re getting enough of it through diet or sun exposure.

About 50% to 90% of vitamin D is absorbed through the skin via sunlight, with the rest coming from foods, according to the National Library of Medicine.

In terms of diet, Cooke suggests foods high in or fortified with vitamin D, like milks, yogurts, and certain fatty fishes.

Vitamin D supplements can also help boost your levels, but should be taken under the guidance and recommendation of your doctor.

With information from CBS News

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