Vitamin D, better known as the sunshine vitamin, is a fat soluble vitamin that is the only vitamin that is produced by the body in response to sunlight. For those that don’t get out in the sun much, suffer from dairy allergies, or follow a strict vegetarian diet, you may be at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D can be ingested through a dietary supplement or it occurs naturally in foods such as some fish, fish liver oils, egg yolks, fortified dairy, and grain products.
Vitamin D helps the body use calcium from ones diet to help build strong bones in the body. Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to be associated with rickets, a disease where the bone tissues doesn’t properly mineralize in the body causing the bones to become soft, leading to skeletal deformities.
The importance of vitamin D is becoming more relevant in helping to protect against a host of other health problems such as an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment in older adults, severe asthma in children, and an increased risk in cancer. Vitamin D also has been shown to play a role in the prevention and treatment of type I and type II diabetes, osteoporosis, glucose intolerance, hypertension, and multiple sclerosis.
WebMD lists a number of reasons why a Vitamin D deficiency can occur for someone, such as:
“You don’t consume the recommended levels of the vitamin over time.
This is likely if you follow a strict vegetarian diet, because most of the natural sources are animal-based, including fish and fish oils, egg yolks, cheese, fortified milk, and beef liver.
Your exposure to sunlight is limited.
Because the body makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight, you may be at risk of deficiency if you are homebound, live in northern latitudes, wear long robes or head coverings for religious reasons, or have an occupation that prevents sun exposure.
You have dark skin.
The pigment melanin reduces the skin’s ability to make vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure. Some studies show that older adults with darker skin are at high risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Your kidneys cannot convert vitamin D to its active form.
As people age their kidneys are less able to convert vitamin D to its active form, thus increasing their risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Your digestive tract cannot adequately absorb vitamin D.
You are obese.
Vitamin D is extracted from the blood by fat cells, altering its release into the circulation. People with a body mass index of 30 or greater often have low blood levels of vitamin D.”
The daily recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adults is 600 international units (IU). For those over 70 years of age it goes up to 800 IU. The best way to avoid a vitamin D deficiency is to eat foods rich in vitamin D and get sun exposure for 10 minutes daily on uncovered arms and legs for best absorption.