Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is produced by the body as a response to sun exposure; it can also be consumed in food or supplements. We will look at the importance of vitamin D and how it’s deficiency effects or is linked to illnesses.
A few months back I was experiencing a bit of depression, constant body aches and lethargy and the medicines prescribed by my physician only helped temporarily.
A close friend of mine, who is also a Geneticist, asked me to get my Vitamin D level tested. To my complete surprise, my level came out to be 12.58. To put things in perspective, the range for D insufficiency is 20-30 and deficiency is < 20. I then got everyone in my family tested. All of my family members, and I mean ALL, had D deficiency. I then got a couple of my friends tested (yes, I have great persuasion powers!), they were deficient too.
I have been to many general practitioners and specialists in my lifetime due to various health concerns, big or small, but none of them advised me to get my Vitamin D tested. Long story short, I have been taking Calcirol 60,000 IU/gm sachet twice a week for a couple of months now, eating nutritious food, drinking milk and exercising and am no more experiencing pain or feeling depressed.
This got me thinking how important Vitamin D is for our health and how often it is ignored and/or underestimated. Do you know that more people in India are vitamin D deficient when compared to the US or Canada. Their skin is light and sunlight penetrates easily, whereas we need more exposure to sunlight for it to enter our skin.
Let’s talk about the symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency, its effect on various illnesses, treatment and Vitamin D food sources.
Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency
- Getting sick or infected more often.
- Painful bones and back.
- Depressed mood.
- Impaired wound healing.
- Hair loss.
- Muscle pain.
While many factors can influence those symptoms, if you haven’t changed your lifestyle recently, such conditions may be signs of vitamin D2 or D3 deficiency.
Diseases that are linked to Vitamin D deficiency
If Vitamin D deficiency continues for long periods of time it can result in:
1Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
A review of research found that people with the highest vitamin D levels had a 24.2% lower risk of developing RA compared to those with the lowest levels. They also found that there was a higher rate of vitamin D deficiency among people with RA than with the general population, and the activity of RA got worse as the level decreased.
2Autoimmune thyroid disease (AITD) (Graves’ disease and Hashimoto thyroiditis)
In a review of 20 studies, they found that AITD patients has lower levels and were more likely to have vitamin D deficiency compared with controls. In a review of 26 studies of Graves’ disease, they concluded that low vitamin D status may increase the risk of Graves’ disease.
A study published in August 2014 in the journal Neurology found that moderate and severe vitamin D deficiency in older adults was associated with a doubled risk for some forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia involves a decline in thinking, behavior, and memory that negatively affects daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for as many as 80 percent of dementia cases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
The above study analyzed more than 1,600 people age 65 or older who did not have dementia at the beginning of the study. Compared with people with normal vitamin D levels, those with low levels of the vitamin had a 53 percent increased risk of developing all-cause dementia, while those who were severely deficient had a 125 percent increased risk, researchers observed. Also, study authors found people who had lower levels of vitamin D were about 70 percent more likely to develop specifically Alzheimer’s disease, and that those who were severely deficient were over 120 percent more likely to develop that neurodegenerative disorder.
Considering the devastating toll that dementia can have on patients and their families alike, those findings may seem alarming. But researchers noted their study was observational, meaning they didn’t prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship with vitamin D deficiency and dementia and Alzheimer’s. Nonetheless, they theorized that the sunshine vitamin might help clear plaques in the brain that are linked to dementia.
A study published in May 2014 in the journal Clinical Cancer Research found a link between low blood levels of vitamin D and aggressive prostate cancer in European-American and African-American men.
Researchers looked at vitamin D levels in 667 men ages 40 to 79 who were undergoing prostate biopsies. The connection between vitamin D and prostate cancer seemed especially strong in African-American men, with results suggesting that African-American men with low vitamin D levels were more likely to test positive for the cancer than the other men with normal vitamin D levels.
5Multiple sclerosis (MS)
Current evidence supports that vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of developing MS and alters the disease activity in people with MS. Numerous studies have linked the occurrence of MS with birth month. There is also a higher prevalence of MS in geographic areas farther from the equator, where people are exposed to less sunlight.
A large review of studies shows that with adequate vitamin D levels in people with MS there are fewer relapses, lower risk of development of new lesions in the brain, less disability and disease severity, and better nonverbal long-term memory performance.
A small study of 143 subjects published in August 2014 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that men with severe erectile dysfunction (ED) had significantly lower vitamin D levels than men with mild ED.
Study authors theorized that vitamin D deficiency may contribute to ED by impeding the arteries’ ability to dilate — a condition called endothelial dysfunction and a heart-disease marker that has been associated with vitamin D deficiency in other research.
For instance, a study published in July 2011 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggested that lack of the vitamin was indeed linked with arterial stiffness in healthy people. One of the requirements for achieving an erection is proper function of the arteries, which are responsible for supplying the penis with blood so it can become engorged.
Numerous studies have shown an association between low vitamin D blood levels and heart disease and related complications, according to a review published in January 2014 in Circulation Research, but science has not clearly established if supplementation can reduce these risks. The review cites research that points to vitamin D levels as a potential culprit for health problems related to heart disease such as atherosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes, and stroke.
Treatment for a Vitamin D Deficiency
The amount of vitamin D that is needed to correct a deficiency will depend on the severity of the deficiency and your individual medical conditions. The time of year will also impact your needs.
The best treatment for vitamin D deficiency is sunlight. We need close to 45 minutes of sun light exposure at least twice a week to get the required amount of Vitamin D. But lifestyle has changed. Children do not play out doors anymore. We don’t walk back home from work. We leave for work early to avoid traffic. We use sunscreen to prevent tanning. The alternative is vitamin D supplements and diet.
Vitamin D3 has been shown to be the best choice for supplements. Vitamin D2 supplements do not raise your levels the same amount as D3 and, in some cases, they have been shown to decrease levels over long-term use. Natural sources of vitamin D2 are scarce, and the majority of research has been done using D3 supplements.
What you take is as important as how you take it. Vitamin D supplements should be taken with a meal that contains fat. Studies have shown that when taken on an empty stomach versus with a meal containing fat, there was an average of 32% more vitamin D absorption in the fat-containing meal.
There are supplements that can be taken on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. It’s a matter of preference and, most importantly, which one you will be more likely to take. When you are deficient, it is recommended to have your blood tested after two to three months of taking the supplement to be sure that your levels are going up.
The task force for the Endocrine Society makes the following recommendations:
For children 1-18 years of age: 2,000 IU/d of vitamin D3 for at least six weeks or with 50,000 IU once a week for at least six weeks, followed by maintenance therapy of 600-1,000 IU/day.
For all adults: 50,000 IU of vitamin D3 once a week for eight weeks or its equivalent of 6,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily, followed by maintenance therapy of 1,500-2,000 IU/day.
For obese patients, patients with malabsorption syndromes, and patients on medications affecting vitamin D metabolism: At least 6,000-10,000 IU/day, followed by maintenance therapy of 3,000-6,000IU/day.
Vitamin D Food Sources
A few foods naturally contain vitamin D, and other foods are fortified with it. With only 20% of our vitamin D intake expected from food, exposure to the sun and taking supplements remain the primary sources.
Vitamin D (IU)
|Maitake mushrooms **||1 cup, diced||786|
|Portobello mushrooms **||1 cup, sliced||634|
|Soy milk, original, fortiﬁed with vitamin D||1 cup||120*|
|Almond milk, original, fortiﬁed with vitamin D||1 cup||100*|
|Chanterelle mushrooms, raw**||1 cup||114|
|Orange juice, fortiﬁed with
|Soy yogurt, fortiﬁed with vitamin D||150 grams||80*|
|Ready-to-eat cereal, fortiﬁed with vitamin D||¾ – 1 cup||40*|
**Exposing mushrooms to UV light causes measurable increases in the vitamin D2 content; amount of vitamin D2 will vary depending on the type of light and duration of exposure.
*May vary depending on product.
VITAMIN D (IU)
|Milk, low-fat, fortiﬁed with vitamin D||1 cup||127|
|Yogurt, fortiﬁed with vitamin D||6 ounces||80|
|Egg||1 whole, medium||41|
|Cheese, Swiss||1 ounce||6|