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Over the past few weeks we’ve discussed the importance of vitamin D in our diets and the epigenetic role the hormone plays in expressing a multitude of traits (D1). We also defined what vitamin D is and how much we need in order for our bodies to function properly (D2). To further our discussion, we will identify the best sources to obtain vitamin D, touch on risk factors for deficiency, and identify some of the signs that may indicate a person is vitamin D deficient. Additionally, we will highlight some easy new ways to monitor your baseline biomarkers to ensure you are maintaining levels of the nutrients your body needs for optimal health.
Sources of Vitamin D
For most of us, our primary source of vitamin D comes from sun exposure; UVB irradiates 7-dehdrocholesterol in the skin to synthesize the vitamin before it is metabolized into its active form. It is thought that 15 minutes of sun exposure every day is adequate for most (Holick, 2006). Food sources of vitamin D are relatively scarce. The most vitamin D rich foods include oily fishes; salmon, mackerel, and sardines while foods such as egg yolks and fortified dairy products also provide a source of the nutrient. Mushrooms also contain vitamin D. Because it may be difficult to achieve sufficient amounts of the vitamin from your diet, supplements also play an important role in order to achieve intake quantities recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board. It should be noted however that because vitamin supplements are not regulated by the FDA, you should look for supplements that have USP (United States Pharmacopeial Convention) verification mark. Supplements with the USP mark on the label have been verified to contain the amount of the nutrients they advertise.
Vitamin D deficiency Pandemic
Despite the vital role vitamin D plays in our overall health, vitamin D deficiency is recognized as a worldwide pandemic (Holick & Chen, 2008). Across the globe, it is estimated that over 1 billion people are either vitamin D deficient or insufficient and in the U.S; an estimated 50 million teens, half of children ages 1-5 and 70% of children ages 7-11 are either deficient or insufficient (Holick, 2010). It is also estimated that between 50-100% of the elderly in both Europe and U.S. are vitamin D deficient (2010). If these numbers shock you…they should! As previously discussed, vitamin D facilitates numerous physiological processes essential for health. From neurological function to bone health, cardiovascular function to immune system regulation, and the prevention of many cancers…it has been well documented that insufficient or deficient amounts of vitamin D leads to a myriad of health problems. While I believe everyone should have their blood levels checked, some general risk factors include but are not limited to:
- Obesity: vitamin D is fat soluble and is stored in body fat. The higher the body fat the lower the bioavailability (Patrick, 2013)
- Insufficient sun exposure: sunscreens block UVB rays thus preventing vitamin D synthesis from taking place. Also, those in northern latitudes (above 37˚ N latitude) don’t receive sufficient sun exposure during winter months due to atmospheric conditions. Unprotected sun exposure should be limited to 15 minutes a day (2013).
- Dark Skin Pigment: melanin acts as a natural sun screen, therefore darker skin pigment reduces the amount of vitamin D that can be synthesized through sun exposure (2013).
- Aging: As we get older our bodies become less efficient at producing the active metabolite (2013).
So what are the signs of vitamin D deficiency?
As you’ve probably already guessed, the signs of vitamin D deficiency vary. Some symptoms you may be deficient include:
- Bone and joint aches and pains
- Muscle weakness
- Frequent sickness or ailments
Because these symptoms are so general it is important that you see a physician, family practitioner, or a host of other outlets to have your vitamin D metabolite blood levels checked on a regular basis.
Next time, we will conclude are series on vitamin D. Please remember to share your questions or comments, either on our website or on our Facebook page. Thanks for reading and until next time, stay healthy!
Hoessein-nezhad, A., Spira, A., & Holick, M. F. (2013, March). (R. P. Moray Campbell, Ed.) Public Library of Science, 8(3). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058725
Holick, M. F. (2006). High Prevalence of Vitamin D Inadequacy and Implications for Health. Mayo Clinic Proceedings (pp. 353-373). Boston: Elsevier Inc.
Holick, M. F. (2010, January). The Vitamin D Deficiency Pandemic: a Forgotten Hormone Important for Health. Public Health Reviews, 32(1), 267-283.
Holick, M. F., & Chen, T. C. (2008). Vitamin D deficiency: a worldwide problem with health consequences. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1080S-6S.
Norman, A. W. (2008). From vitamin D to hormone D: fundamentals of the vitamin D endocrine system essential for good health. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 491S-9S.
Patrick, R. P. (2013, August 14). The “Vitamin D Sweet Spot” and its Relationship To Aging. Retrieved from Wellness FX: http://blog.wellnessfx.com/2013/08/14/the-vitamin-d-sweet-spot-and-its-relationship-to-aging/
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