Are you getting enough vitamin D? And, no, we’re not talking about the orange juice that’s on the shelves at every grocery store, we’re talking about the vitamin D our bodies can make from the sun. Well, aside from what you may think, an estimated 40 to 85 percent of people in the U.S. are vitamin D deficient.
Vitamin D is responsible for a variety of biological and physiological functions ranging from keeping our bones strong and healthy to even reducing the risk of cancer. For a number of reasons, many people aren’t getting enough vitamin D in order to stay healthy and there are many factors that can affect the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D.
Understanding all the important roles vitamin D plays in our health will help you solve a lot of health concerns that are accompanied by vitamin D deficiency. In addition, understanding what this vitamin means to your health will help encourage you to make sure you get your recommended daily intake. But first, we must understand what vitamin D actually is.
What Is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means that the body can only absorb it when consumed with foods that contain fat like avocados, peanut butter and eggs. This sunshine vitamin is different from other nutrients because it also works as a hormone.
Vitamin D is essential in making sure the body gets an adequate amount of calcium and phosphorus. Both of these minerals are essential for building and maintaining strong bones. Vitamin D is also important for warding off chronic health conditions like osteoporosis, hypertension, glucose intolerance, multiple sclerosis and rickets in children. Additional benefits of vitamin D are currently being researched.
There are two different types of vitamin D depending on their food sources:
- Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol): A natural form of vitamin D that the body makes from the sunlight and is also found in animal-sourced foods.
- Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol): A natural form of vitamin D that comes from plant-sourced foods.
Your skin produces vitamin D3 when you spend time in the sun as opposed to vitamin D2, which is produced by plants and mushrooms that are exposed to sunlight.
What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough Vitamin D?
The symptoms associated with vitamin D deficiency can include general aches and pain as well as fatigue. But these symptoms are subtle and many people don’t even realize they’re deficient. Low vitamin D levels can pose health risks of low blood pressure along with the following conditions that have been associated with vitamin D deficiency:
- Increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- Cognitive impairment in older adults
- Severe asthma in children
How Do I Get More Vitamin D?
You can either raise your vitamin D levels by spending more time in the sun or by fostering a diet with foods that have high sources of vitamin D.
Our bodies are designed to get the vitamin D it needs by producing it when your skin is exposed to sunlight. Ultraviolet B (UVB) is the most natural way to get vitamin D. High amounts of vitamin D3 are made very quickly when exposed to the sun rays. This could happen in just 15 minutes for a fair-skinned person, however, it may take a couple of hours for a person with a darker complexion.
Foods that provide vitamin D include:
- Fatty fish: tuna, mackerel and salmon
- Foods fortified with vitamin D: orange juice, soy milk and dairy products
- Egg yolks
- Beef liver
If you’re under the assumption that you’re vitamin D deficient, make sure you do your research in order to determine if your assumption is accurate. Along with research, it’s never a bad idea to visit your doctor to get a proper diagnosis. Don’t forget to ask if taking vitamin D supplements would be beneficial for you in addition to adding the mentioned foods to your diet.