Did you know that an estimated 50% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, regardless of age? This is a shocking statistic, and it's one that we should all be aware of. Health issues that vitamin D deficiencies can cause include rickets (weak bones), osteomalacia (softening of the bones), increased risk of fractures and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to avoid having deficient amounts of vitamin D and its associated health risks. In fact, you may be surprised at how easy it is to correct this deficiency and how important it is to take care of your vitamin D intake.
So what does vitamin D do for us? In this guide, we'll discuss what vitamin D deficiency is, why it's so important that we get enough of it in our diet and measures you can take to ensure you are getting your recommended daily allowance of this essential nutrient.
What is a Vitamin D Deficiency?
To better understand vitamin D deficiency, it helps to know a bit more about vitamin D itself.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that our bodies naturally produce through exposure to sunlight. It's considered a steroid hormone and plays an important role in the absorption of calcium and phosphate, which are critical for bone health. There are two chemically different forms of it, vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol).
Hypovitaminosis D vs. Vitamin D Deficiency
You may hear Vitamin Hypovitaminosis D discussed along with Vitamin D deficiency. However, they are one and the same. In a nutshell, both terms mean you are deficient or taking in an insufficient amount of vitamin D. Additionally when you don't get enough of this vitamin, it affects your mineral metabolism and several other physiological functions.
Why Vitamin D is Important
Vitamin D is important for many aspects of our health, including regulating calcium absorption in our bones and helping to protect against autoimmune diseases like diabetes or multiple sclerosis. It also supports heart health by reducing inflammation and blood pressure levels. And it can even improve our mood and help us sleep better at night.
Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms
If you're not getting enough vitamin D, there are a few telltale signs that may indicate that your body is lacking this key nutrient. These include:
- Increased susceptibility to bone fractures
- Muscle pain or weakness
- Fatigue or feelings of being unwell
- Bone or joint discomfort or stiffness
- Difficulty sleeping or trouble falling asleep at night
But other more subtle symptoms may indicate you have a vitamin D deficiency, including:
- Poor dental health
- Hair loss or brittle hair
- A weak immune system, prone to frequent infections
- Depression and mood swings
Who is at Risk of Vitamin D Deficiency?
There are certain groups of people who have a higher risk of developing vitamin D or mineral deficiencies. They are:
- People who follow a vegan diet
- People with malabsorption issues
- People who have dark skin
- People who are pregnant
- Young children and adolescents
- Undernourished people
- People who take medications like laxatives and steroids
Vitamin D Testing Methods
If you think that you may be at risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency, you can take a simple blood test known as a vitamin D 25 hydroxy test to determine your levels. If the testing results come back low, this indicates that you are deficient in vitamin D and may need to take extra steps to ensure you get enough of it through diet or supplementation.
Testing is available both on an individual basis with a doctor's order and as part of a group panel through health screenings or wellness programs. There are also finger prick blood tests you can take at home to test your vitamin D levels like the LetsGetChecked Micronutrient Test and the Everlywell Vitamin D and Inflammation Test.
Vitamin D Classification System
There is a classification system for vitamin D deficiency that medical practitioners use to assess the severity and recommend treatment.
According to this testing, symptoms are generally classified into the following categories:
- Severe deficiency: blood levels below 12 ng/mL
- Moderate deficiency: blood levels between 12 and 20 ng/mL
- Mild deficiency: blood levels between 21 and 29 ng/mL
- Insufficiency: blood levels between 30 and 50 ng/mL
- Sufficient levels: blood levels above 50 ng/mL
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin D is the daily amount you need to take to maintain your bone density and healthy calcium metabolism. It assumes you are getting minimum sun exposure. The RDA for adults 19 years and over is 600 IU or 15 mcg daily for both men and women. Adults over the age of 70 should be getting 800 IU or 20 mcg of it on a daily basis.
Sources of Vitamin D
There are a few different sources of vitamin D. The most common of them include:
- Vitamin D-Containing Foods
- Vitamin D-Fortified Foods
- Medical treatments
Sunlight is the most common way that people get their vitamin D. When our skin is exposed to UV rays from the sun, our bodies absorb it and naturally produce vitamin D3 from a compound called cholesterol. However, should sunlight be advocated as the best way to get your vitamin D? Absolutely not, according to the experts at Yale who say, "The majority of people can get their vitamin D from nutritional supplements from vitamin D-fortified foods."
Vitamin D-Containing Foods
There are a few foods that naturally contain vitamin D, including fatty fish (like salmon), dairy products (like milk) and eggs. However, it is a challenge to eat enough of these foods to get enough vitamin D each day. That is another reason why experts recommend taking supplements or eating vitamin D-fortified foods.
Vitamin D-Fortified Foods
In an effort to address concerns of vitamin D deficiency, many food manufacturers have started adding extra amounts of vitamin D to certain foods. Some examples include milk, cereal, yogurt and orange juice. One thing that's good about fortified foods is that they also pack in other vitamins and minerals such as calcium, vitamin A and vitamin B12.
Vitamin D Supplements
If you are unable to get enough vitamin D through sunlight or dietary sources, there are supplements available that can help boost your intake. They are available in pill, chewable, liquid and spray form and you can find them at most drugstores or health food stores.
However, a word of caution: only take the supplements as directed on the label, as vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and will build up in your body if excess amounts are taken. This can cause health problems over time.
The upper intake level for vitamin D is the maximum you can take daily which is unlikely to cause adverse health effects. The UL for vitamin D for adults and children 9 years of age and older is
If you have a severe deficiency of vitamin D, your doctor may prescribe certain medical treatments for you, such as taking prescribed injections or oral supplements to increase your levels. However, it is important to speak with your doctor before beginning any medical treatment.
Does Vitamin D Light Therapy Work?
Some studies show it does. For instance, light therapy research conducted on people with Cystic fibrosis (CF) and short bowel syndrome (SBS) in 2007 and published in the Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed showed positive results.
Indoor Tanning Lamp Study
People with CR and SBS typically have malabsorption issues, meaning they can't absorb enough of this essential vitamin from the food they eat or the supplements they take. As such, they often lack the vitamin D amounts they need to stay healthy.
During the 2007 light therapy study, subjects with CF and SBS were tested by placing them under a commercial portable indoor tanning lamp that emits UV rays. The vitamin D lamp's output mimics natural sunlight, and the researchers measured it to see if they could increase vitamin D levels in their subjects.
During the write-up of their results, the researchers stated that "the indoor lamp increased or maintained [vitamin D] levels during the winter months." When they increased the frequency of the UV lamp usage they said they "found an improved response in the CF patients."
However, experts don't advise the general population to use this type of device as a medical treatment for vitamin D deficiency because of the risk of skin cancer and because people without malabsorption issues can replenish their vitamin D stores using fortified foods and supplements.
On the other hand, a 2017 study showed that there are UV LED devices that are safer than the ones used in the UV indoor tanning lamp research. So, if you are experiencing symptoms of vitamin D deficiency and cannot get enough through dietary changes or supplements, speak with your doctor about how this type of bright light therapy can help you address your condition.
Bright Health Mood & Energy Treatment Device
Bright Health's Mood & Energy Treatment Device is a sophisticated indoor lighting system that uses UV LED technology to deliver safe and effective doses of bright light therapy. And while it doesn't deliver significant sources of vitamin D, you can see here that there are easy fixes like consuming fortified foods and supplements to get the relief you need from vitamin D deficiencies.
Meanwhile, you can use Bright Health's Mood & Energy Treatment Device safely at home to relieve insomnia, jet lag, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and a range of other conditions in just a few minutes. The device is portable, so you can take it with you when you travel or move it from room to room. In addition, it has a unique 360-degree Bright Light coverage area and an attractive design that works excellently for illuminating large spaces. To learn more about this innovative device, read more about it on the Bright Health website today.