Vitamin D is sometimes called the "sunshine vitamin," but did you know that it is actually a hormone? Vitamin D is a fat-soluble steroid hormone that is produced in your body when your skin is exposed to the sun. As much as 80-90% of the vitamin D your body needs comes from sun exposure, not from food. (Only a few foods naturally contain vitamin D, including fish, fish oils, and egg yolks, although some foods are fortified with vitamin D, like milk.) Vitamin D receptors are found in nearly every cell in your body, so it is extremely important to keep this hormone in balance.
Most people are unaware that vitamin D is essential for optimal health! Vitamin D plays an important role in:
- slowing the effects of aging
- promoting energy and healthy weight maintenance
- boosting the immune system
- preventing cancer
- promoting calcium absorption in the gut
- bone growth and bone "remodeling" by bone cells called osteoblasts and osteoclasts
- modulating cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function
- reducing inflammation
It is estimated that more than 40% of people in the United States are Vitamin D deficient! If left untreated, a vitamin D deficiency can lead to many other serious health conditions, including coronary artery disease, diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis, and cancer.
Here are 10 signs that you need more Vitamin D:
(1) You spend much of your time indoors. If you do not regularly expose your bare skin to sunlight, or if you work indoors most of the time, or if you wear sunscreen daily, you may have a vitamin D deficiency.
(2) You are 50 or older. As you get older, your skin gets thinner and does not produce the same levels of vitamin D as it used to. In addition, your kidneys are not as efficient at converting it into useable form.
(3) You have low mood, or are "feeling blue." Serotonin, the brain hormone associated with happy feelings, increases during exposure to bright sunlight, and likewise drops due to lack of exposure ("Seasonal Affective Disorder" is common in areas with little sunlight during the winter months). Studies have shown that people with depression also typically have low vitamin D levels.
(4) You have darker skin. People with darker skin require as much as 5 times more sun exposure to produce the same amount of vitamin D as lighter-skinned people.
(5) You feel tired all the time. Sleepiness during the day is often associated with low levels of vitamin D.
(6) You have bone pain. A condition called osteomalacia can develop when there is a defect in the bone-building process, causing your bones to "soften." The resulting aches and pains can be a sign of low vitamin D.
(7) You have frequent infections. Vitamin D improves immune function and reduces inflammation throughout the body, so frequent illness can signal a deficiency.
(8) You have gut problems. People with gluten sensitivity, celiac disease, Crohn's disease, or inflammatory bowel disease have difficulty absorbing vitamins. This includes a fat-soluable vitamin like vitamin D, as well.
(9) You have too much body fat. Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, people with more fat cells effectively "dilute" your vitamin D levels, making it less available to the other parts of the body where it is needed. You may need extra vitamin D to keep your levels normal.
(10) Your blood pressure is high. Vitamin D plays a role in regulating your blood pressure, so if high blood pressure is an issue, it's a good idea to get your vitamin D levels checked too.
A simple "25-hydroxy vitamin D3" blood test can check your vitamin D levels. If you think you may have a vitamin D deficiency, give us a call today, or talk to one of our clinicians at your next appointment!