Healthy Living

5 Crucial Facts You Should Know About Vitamin D Deficiency

02/14/2017 06:22pm ET | Updated February 20, 2017

If you are the kind of person who is into health-conscious websites or magazines, you have probably read about the widespread problem of low vitamin D levels in this country – and about the many health problems they can cause. Read on to find out just how much of an issue this nutrient deficiency can be – as well as three simple ways you can get the amounts your body needs for optimal health.

1. Vitamin D Deficiency Is a Problem in America – and Worldwide

It might surprise people to learn that low levels of vitamin D are a common problem in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), vitamin D deficiency is the third most common nutrient deficiency in America. It effects around 8.1 percent of the general population. However, when this is broken down by race/ethnicity, 12 percent of Hispanics and 31 percent of African Americans suffer from this problem, leading the CDC to label it a “nutrient of concern.”

What might be even more surprising is how common this problem is around the world. Researchers who have looked at nutritional deficiencies on a global scale estimate that around 50 percent of the human population worldwide suffers from low levels of vitamin D. This is of concern to scientists because these low levels are a risk factor for mortality in the general population and can lead to a variety of other serious health issues.

2. Low Vitamin D Levels Can Lead to a Number of Health Problems

Vitamin D is an important nutrient for the body, according to the CDC, and is responsible for the strength and health of bones and muscles; it also has been proven to help protect against serious chronic diseases like cancer and Type II diabetes.

There are several signs and symptoms associated with vitamin D deficiency. In men, research has found that this condition can lead to a chronic condition of muscular and skeletal pain, often associated with osteomalacia, a weakening of the bones. Women can suffer from muscle pain and weakness, too, as well as increased depression and irritability, high blood pressure, fractures, and lack of energy and stamina if they have low vitamin D levels.

However, though vitamin D deficiency is a potentially serious problem, there are three major ways to help treat it: diet, supplements and fortified foods and exposure to sunlight.

3. Several Foods Are Naturally Rich in Vitamin D

Food sources of vitamin D are not abundant, but there are some dietary sources that can be taken advantage of to get this nutrient.

The CDC notes that the best dietary sources of vitamin D include:

• Egg yolks

• Liver

• Fatty fish like salmon

• Fish liver oils (such as cod liver oil)

• Mushrooms

4. Supplements and Fortified Foods Can Help

Apart from natural food sources, there are other ways that people can fulfil their daily requirement for this important vitamin. One way is to eat foods — such as dairy products — that have been artificially fortified. Another is to use vitamin D supplements to help make up for lack of the vitamin in the diet.

Supplementation does appear to be able to effect change in those with low levels of this nutrient. In a review of 18 separate studies, it was found that using D2 or D3 pils regularly helped to reduce the risk of general mortality in those who suffered from a lack of vitamin D.

In an article on the Dietary Guidelines for 2015-2020, “In some cases, fortified foods and dietary supplements may be useful in providing one or more nutrients than otherwise may be in consumed in less than recommended amounts.” The Dietary Guidelines go on to recommend that doctors, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals talk to their patients about the importance of getting vitamin D from their diet – but also discuss the importance of multivitamin or single vitamin supplements. They cite a study which found that 98 percent of people on such a supplement showed adequate levels of this vitamin.

5. Getting Vitamin D Through Sunlight Exposure

Another great and natural way to get the vitamin D levels your body needs is to expose your skin to sunlight. Vitamin D is unique in that your body is able to produce it when exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun. However, using this method can be more complicated than you might think: the Vitamin D Council reports that the amount of vitamin D produced when your skin is exposed to sunlight depends on a number of factors, including how much skin is exposed and for how long, the time of year and time of day, your geographical area (such as how close you are to the Equator) and how light or dark your skin is. With all these factors, it is best to talk to your doctor about how much sun exposure is right for your individual needs.

In short, low levels of vitamin D are a common problem, especially for dark-skinned people, and can lead to a wide variety of health conditions. The good news is, however, that a combination of a vitamin D-rich diet, the use of supplements and fortified foods and moderate amounts of exposure to sunlight can help to keep healthy levels of this important nutrient in your body.