Vitamin D Deficiency—A Rising Pandemic
Vitamin D deficiency is such an issue that many experts are now calling it a pandemic. And, unfortunately, it’s only becoming more problematic over time. In fact, up to 50% of people are deficient and may not even know it.
One of the reasons this issue continues to be so widespread is due to a lack of knowledge. Most people don’t understand the important role vitamin D plays in our health and wellbeing. The following information will give you a basic understanding of how vital vitamin D is for maintaining optimal wellness and what you can do to correct this problem.
What is vitamin D deficiency? Vitamin D is largely produced by the skin after exposure to sunlight. Wild caught salmon, mackerel, herring, and some fish oils contain useful amounts of vitamin D as well. People become deficient when their skin isn’t producing adequate amounts of vitamin D or they aren’t receiving enough of it from their diet or supplementation.
What are the risks of vitamin D deficiency? Vitamin D is required for strong, healthy bones, among other key functions of the body. In children, vitamin D deficiency can result in rickets. Adults who are deficient have a higher risk of osteopenia, osteoporosis, and fractures. It is also associated with increased risk for some cancers, autoimmune disease, hypertension, and some infectious diseases.
How do I know if I’m deficient? The easiest way to know if you have vitamin D deficiency is to have a blood test done by your medical provider. Some symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include bone pain, muscle weakness, low energy, fatigue, lowered immunity, depression, easy fractures, mood swings, and sleeping irregularities.
How can I get more vitamin D?
- Sunshine: If you’re careful, you can try increasing your vitamin D levels the old-fashioned way from being out in the sun. Fair-skinned people can spend as little as 15 minutes a day for adequate sun exposure to boost their vitamin D. People with more pigment in their skin might need to spend up to 40 minutes a day in the sunshine.
Remember, sunscreen with an SPF of 15 will block up to 99% UVB rays therefore decreasing the synthesis of vitamin D in the body by up to 99% as well. If you are relying on sunshine to increase your vitamin D, sunscreen must be avoided and exposure to the sun must be in very small, careful increments.
You should also take into consideration various elements when factoring how much sun you will need to obtain. Seasons, time of day, solar angle, UV index, latitude, altitude, clothing, sunscreen, pigmentation, and age are all contributing factors that determine the amount of vitamin D your skin is able to produce. We like the mobile device application “DMinder.” This handy tool calculates all of these factors for you and tracks your exposure. It also alerts you when optimal levels have been reached and sends a warning when you are nearing excessive exposure that leads to burning.
Diet: Some foods contain vitamin D, as previously mentioned. One of the best sources, wild caught salmon has on average 500-1000 IU vitamin D per 3.5 ounces. However, be aware that its alternative, farm raised salmon, only contains 100-250 IU of vitamin D in an equivalent serving size. When available, opt for wild caught selections to really maximize their vitamin D potential.
- Supplementation: If you’re concerned about sun exposure and prefer to avoid it or don’t feel you’re getting enough nutrients from your diet, you can take vitamin D supplements to boost your levels. This is the safest, surest method of obtaining adequate levels of this nutrient. The average adult should consume minimally 800-1000 IU vitamin D per day.
Vitamin D is essential for many functions of the body and unfortunately is somewhat difficult to obtain for optimal health. If you are concerned about your levels this summer, try adding a few extra minutes in the sun to your daily routine. But always remember to practice safe sun exposure and never, ever let your skin burn. If unprotected sun exposure has you a little nervous, supplementation is an easy means of achieving adequate vitamin D for your health and wellbeing.
 Holick, M.F. (2008). Vitamin D deficiency: a worldwide problem with health consequences. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vol. 87, No. 4.
 Kennel, K.A., Drake, M.T., & Hurley, D.L. (2010). Vitamin D deficiency in adults: when to test and how to treat. Mayo Clinic Proceedings Vol. 85(5), pgs. 752-758.
 Dunkin, M.A. (2014). Vitamin d deficiency. WebMD.