Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that the body produces when the skin gets exposed to direct sunlight. This hormone controls the calcium levels within the blood, making it extremely important for strong bone and muscle growth, as well as for overall health.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is necessary for the production of vitamin D within the skin – making it the best natural source of vitamin D.
Food alone cannot provide us with an adequate amount of vitamin D. Only very small amounts (5 – 10 per cent) of vitamin D can be obtained through foods such as fatty fish and eggs.
Signs of a Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D deficiencies do not always show obvious symptoms. Often symptoms are subtle and non-specific, meaning that it is difficult to pinpoint if they are caused by low vitamin D levels or something else.
1. Falling Sick Often
The primary function of vitamin D is to keep your immune system healthy and robust so that you’re able to fight off viruses and bacteria that cause illness. Low vitamin D levels may be a contributing factor if you are continually coming down with colds or flus.
Observational studies have shown a link between vitamin D deficiency and respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
2. Feeling Fatigued & Tiredness
Feeling tired can be a result of many causes, however, vitamin D deficiency is often overlooked as a potential cause. Several studies have proven that having low levels of vitamin D in the body can result in constant fatigue that has a severe negative effect on the quality of life.
3. Bone Pain & Loss
A vitamin D deficiency can lead to a range of problems, especially relating to the bones and muscles. A moderate to severe vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets (soft bones) in infants and children. Inadequate vitamin D levels can lead to osteoporosis and increase your risk of falls and fractures if you are over 50. Osteoporosis occurs when your bones lose calcium and other minerals, making them fragile and more prone to breaking.
4. Would Healing
Slow healing of wounds after a surgery or injury may be a sign that your vitamin D levels are inadequate. A test-tube study suggests that vitamin D increases the production of compounds that are crucial for forming new skin as part of the wound-healing process. In addition, vitamin D is essential in controlling inflammation and fighting the infection for proper wound healing.
5. Hair Loss
Hair loss is often attributed to stress, which is certainly a common cause. However, when hair loss is severe, it may be a result of a vitamin D deficiency.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease characterised by severe hair loss from the head as well as other parts of the body. It is associated with rickets, which is a disease that causes soft bones in children due to a vitamin D deficiency. Thus, low vitamin D levels are linked to alopecia areta and may be a risk factor for developing the disease.
Who Is At Greater Risk of Vitamin D Deficiency?
Certain individuals are at a greater risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency, including:
- Individuals with naturally dark skin
The pigment (melanin) in dark skin does not absorb as much UV radiation
- Individuals who actively avoid the sun
Due to previous skin cancers, immune suppression or sensitive skin
- Individuals who wear concealing clothing
E.g. For religious or cultural reasons
- Individuals who have a disability or disease that affects vitamin D metabolism
Such as end-stage liver disease, renal disease and fat malabsorption syndromes such as cystic fibrosis and coeliac disease
- Breast-fed babies of vitamin D deficient mothers
Formula milk is fortified with vitamin D
- Individuals who are obese
Research has found lower vitamin D levels in people with obesity or a BMI of 30 or more
- Individuals who spend extended periods indoors
Jobs with limited sun exposure such as nightshift work or office jobs
Is Your Job making You Suffer from Vitamin D Deficiency?
Today’s hectic work life makes us spend most of our time indoors, trapped within the office walls. This makes having a vitamin D deficiency one of the most common health problems faced by the urban population. In fact, approximately 1 billion people worldwide have low levels of vitamin D within their blood. A deficiency can arise if an individual does not take in an adequate amount of vitamin D or if their skin has an impaired ability to synthesize it from the sun.
Studies have shown that shift workers (80% of individuals), healthcare workers (72%) and indoor workers (77%) in particular are at high risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency. These studies have proven that an individual’s occupation is a major contributing factor to suboptimal vitamin D levels.
If you have a mild deficiency, it is recommended to improve a few simple things such as:
- Increasing your sun exposure
Vitamin D production is reliant on sunshine and UV exposure, so any activity that reduces this exposure tends to reduce vitamin D levels within the body.
- Increasing dietary calcium
Introducing calcium-rich foods into your diet will aid in bone and muscle strength.
- Increasing physical activity
Being physically active outdoors will help produce vitamin D within the body.
- Taking vitamin D supplements
Your doctor may recommend vitamin D supplements, which should be taken strictly as directed. Once low vitamin D levels are treated, the aim is to maintain adequate vitamin D levels.
Testing for a vitamin D deficiency is an important screening test, especially if you spend extended periods indoors or live in a colder climate. The Vitamin D Screen Test is an innovative and convenient blood spot test that measures both the natural form of Vitamin D (D3) as well as D2, the form that is used in many supplements. Therefore, the screen test can be used to monitor vitamin D supplementation to ensure you are getting an adequate amount for optimum health.
The best time to test your vitamin D levels is at the end of winter or in early spring, when your vitamin D levels are at their lowest.