Vitamin D is sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin.” Through an amazing and complicated process, your body converts sunlight into the vitamin that helps keep your bones strong and helps protect you from metabolic disorders, cancer, cardiovascular disease, infections and autoimmune diseases. Two other main sources of Vitamin D are the foods you eat and taking the vitamin as a supplement.
Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency
Lack of sunlight
Sunlight is a double-edge sword. UVA rays from the sun interact with cholesterol on the skin to begin the process of creating the Vitamin D a body needs. But UV rays also wreak havoc in the form of skin damage and skin cancer. Protecting your skin from UV rays by limiting your amount of exposure to the sun and using sunscreen is necessary for skin health, but at the same time it limits the amount of Vitamin D that your body can produce.
The amount of melanin in our skin determines darkness. It also acts as a protectant against UV rays by dissipating most of the UV rays absorbed into your skin – good for your skin’s health, but not for Vitamin D production.
Not enough Vitamin D in your diet
Most foods naturally containing Vitamin D are animal-based, including fish, egg yolks, cheese and beef liver. Mushrooms are the only vegetable that contain Vitamin D, but only in small amounts (interesting fact: the amount of Vitamin D in mushrooms increases 16 times when sun-dried). Some foods, such as milk, juice and cereals may be fortified with Vitamin D. If you’re a vegan, be sure to have your Vitamin D levels closely monitored by your doctor.
Certain health conditions can prevent the body from being able to use the vitamin after ingestion. For example, kidney disease can prevent the body from converting Vitamin D into the form the body needs. Some issues, such as celiac disease, prevent adequate intestinal absorption of the vitamin. Because fat cells remove Vitamin D from blood, obesity can also causedeficiencies.
Certain medications can prevent the body’s ability to use vitamin D. Anti-seizure medications fall into this category. Be sure to check the side effects of any medications you use for issues pertaining to Vitamin D.
Treatments for Vitamin D Deficiency
Unless you have problems with absorption, the treatment for most Vitamin D deficiencies is fairly straightforward: get more of the vitamin into your system. Your doctor can run a blood test to check your levels and then help you design a plan if there is a deficiency. Paying attention to the foods you eat is one step, as is careful, limited exposure to the sun, but your doctor will most likely recommend Vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D can be ingested as a stand-alone supplement, or you can choose to take it with a combination of other vitamins and/or minerals. Choose Vitamin D3 over D2, as it is the form that occurs naturally in your body.
If your Vitamin D level does not improve over a period of time, your doctor may chose to do additional tests. Before starting any vitamin supplements, be sure to consult with your doctor as some vitamins can interact with certain medications.