Vitamin D is essential to everyone’s health. Through exposure to sunlight, diet, and supplements, we are able to absorb vitamin D. But how do you know if you’re getting enough?
The sunshine vitamin
One of the top sources for vitamin D is sunlight. Our bodies naturally produce vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight. This is why vitamin D is often referred to as the sunshine vitamin. Specifically, ultraviolet B or UVB rays are required for the production of vitamin D. Because too much sun exposure can cause damage to health, always be sure to adhere to established guidelines for safe sun exposure. How much sunlight we are able to safely be exposed to can vary between individuals. It depends on many factors including geography, biology, and age.
It may be the case that because of location, or over the winter months we do not get an adequate amount of vitamin D from sun exposure alone. The good news is that most people benefit from even a moderate amount of sun exposure. Prolonged and regular sun exposure is not required for your body to product vitamin D. Also, it’s possible to get enough vitamin D through foods and supplements alone, which is good for people who are not able to get regular sun exposure because of geography or circumstance (older folks living mostly indoors, for example).
Why do I need vitamin D?
Vitamin D is integral for your body to absorb calcium and phosphorus, both key in maintaining healthy, strong bones. In children, not enough vitamin D can result in rickets or soft bones. In adults, it can cause osteomalacia or fragile and underdeveloped bones. Vitamin D is also integrated into the health of your muscles, brain, and immune system.
What causes a vitamin D deficiency?
Because vitamin D naturally occurs with exposure to sunlight, one cause for a deficiency can be from a lack of sunlight. This can happen to people who stay indoors for a prolonged amount of time or who live in a geographic region that does not get a lot of regular sunlight.
Another cause of vitamin D deficiency could be a lack of absorption, rather than a lack of exposure. Some medical conditions and medications can make it more difficult to absorb vitamin D. These include liver and kidney disease, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, chronic inflammatory disease, gastric bypass surgery, and certain medications used in the treatment of HIV/AIDS and seizures.
What are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency?
The symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency can be subtle and difficult to diagnose, but some of the most common symptoms are muscle weakness and achy bones. Because the signs of a vitamin D deficiency are not always overt, the best way to determine if you are vitamin D deficient is to take a blood test that specifically measures this. The test is called the hydroxy-25 vitamin D test.
What are normal vitamin D levels?
Normal vitamin D levels depend on several factors including age and biology, but for healthy adults the approximate results range can be:
Low vitamin D levels: below 13ng/ml
Regular vitamin D levels: around 20ng/ml
High vitamin D levels: 50ng/ml or higher
These amounts, measured in nanograms per milliliter, are only an approximate average of vitamin D levels. If you’re concerned about your vitamin D levels, the best course of action is to speak to your doctor or healthcare professional. They can guide you through the steps of getting a hydroxy-25 vitamin D test, interpreting the results, and recommending the best course of action for you.
Can you take too much vitamin D?
Because vitamin D is not available in high doses through sunlight exposure or food alone, too much of the vitamin can come from taking an excess of supplements which can cause vitamin D toxicity. This can lead to several health problems, including kidney damage and dangerously high calcium levels (since vitamin D assists with the absorption of calcium). Some symptoms of vitamin D toxicity can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Increased urine output (polyuria)
- Increased thirst (polydipsia)
Treatment for vitamin D deficiency
Your doctor or healthcare provider will recommend treatments that best suit your individual needs. You may need a vitamin D supplement to increase your overall levels. Because vitamin D supplements can interact with certain medications, you should always speak to your doctor or healthcare provider before taking this or any supplement.
If you’re not getting enough vitamin D because of a lack of sunlight, safely increasing your sun exposure by going outside could be a helpful way to improve your levels. UVB rays don’t travel through windows, so unfortunately sitting beside a sunny window won’t offer the same benefits that being outside in unobstructed sunlight will. Because there can be detrimental effects of getting too much direct sunlight, always be cautious when seeking sun exposure. Most professionals agree that you only need about half of the amount of sunlight to get adequate amounts of vitamin D than it would take to get a sunburn. Due to geography and different seasons, the amount of sunlight and vitamin D available this way varies.
There is a gentler approach to increasing your vitamin D levels. You can incorporate more foods into your diet that naturally contain this vitamin.
Some foods that contain vitamin D include:
- Canned tuna
- Wild salmon
- Egg yolks
- Cod liver oil
- Chicken breasts
- Fortified foods, often cereals and certain dairy products
- Beef liver
The bottom line
Of course, it’s not necessary that you treat a vitamin D deficiency with only one of these three methods. Your doctor may suggest a treatment plan integrating some of all of these suggestions. Their aim is to help you achieve optimal levels. By integrating your treatment plan with hydroxy-25 vitamin D testing, you along with your doctor or healthcare provider can monitor and optimize your health. Along with roughly 3,500 other tests, Your Health Lab offers the hydroxy-25 vitamin D test and makes managing your health and wellness easy.