Vitamin D Deficiency: What It Is And How You Can Prevent It
We hate to break it to you, but you probably have a vitamin D deficiency.
If this sounds a little scary, we don’t mean to alarm you here – but the fact is that over 75% of adults are deficient in this vitamin.
This is because it is very difficult for most people to get enough vitamin D from their diets alone.
Of course, none of this would matter much if vitamin D wasn’t very important…
However, the truth is that getting adequate vitamin D comes with a multitude of health benefits that you really don’t want to be missing out on.
That’s why in this article we’re going to give you the full rundown on vitamin D – including why it’s important, how much you should be getting, and the best ways to get it.
Let’s get to it.
What Is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is different to many of the other vitamins that we get in our diet.
Unlike other vitamins, we are actually able to produce vitamin D directly from sunlight!
For this reason, vitamin D is fittingly known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ – we get it mainly from the sun, not from foods.
This is also one of the main reasons that many of us tend to be deficient in vitamin D…
Since it isn’t readily found in many foods, we are reliant on adequate sun exposure to get enough of it.
And for many of us that aren’t lucky enough to be able to routinely lay out in the sun each day, the only other option is supplementation (which we’ll get to shortly).
Why Is Vitamin D So Important?
For years, it was thought that the main benefit of vitamin D was improved bone health.
And while this is still true, more recent research has found that vitamin D has many, many additional benefits that we didn’t know about before.
Here are some of the health benefits that you can get from adequate vitamin D consumption:
- Improved heart health (see study)
- Increased insulin sensitivity (see study)
- Reduced risk of certain cancers (see study)
- Improved brain health (see study)
- Improved immune system health (see study)
- Increased bone density (see study)
What Are Some Symptoms Of A Vitamin D Deficiency
Now, on the other hand, not getting enough vitamin D can lead to various negative health consequences.
Here are some of the symptoms that can potentially indicate that you’re deficient in vitamin D.
- Depression (especially if it is seasonal)
- Frequent head sweating
- Aching bones
- Gastrointestinal issues
Obviously these symptoms on their own can be completely unrelated to a vitamin D deficiency, but if you find that you have several of them then you may want to get a blood test to check your levels.
What Is Considered To Be Vitamin D Deficient?
As we just mentioned, the best way to determine if you are actually deficient in vitamin D is to get a blood test.
Based on the results of the test, you’ll fall into one of 3 main categories:
- Sufficient – you have at least 30 nanograms of vitamin D per ml of blood.
- Insufficient – you have between 21-29 nanograms of vitamin D per ml of blood.
- Deficient – you have less than 20 nanograms of vitamin D per ml of blood.
And as I’ve already mentioned earlier in the article, the majority of people are in the deficient category.
So if you do take a blood test, and find that you’re in this category, you should at least know that you’re in good company!
Luckily this is a pretty easy thing to correct with proper supplementation – but before we get into all of that, let’s first take a look at the optimal levels of vitamin D to shoot for.
How Much Vitamin D Should You Get Each Day?
Just like any other dietary targets, it can pay off to be aware of how much vitamin D you should be trying to get each day.
Now according to the Institute Of Medicine, most people only need to be getting roughly 600 IU of vitamin D each day (800 IU or more if you’re over 70 years old).
However, many experts claim that this isn’t nearly enough vitamin D – especially if you’re looking to really maximize its potential benefits.
In fact, several reviews have estimated that we should be aiming for 2000-5000 IU of vitamin D each day, which is considerably more than the IOM recommendation, and certainly more than most of us even get close to through diet alone.
To put this in perspective, 2000 IU of vitamin D per day will roughly equate to a blood level of 30 nanograms, which is in the sufficient range. On the other hand, 5000 IU per day will give you a blood level of roughly 60-80 nanograms, which is where current research indicates you’ll be getting most of the potential health benefits.
For practical purposes, it has been shown that in order to raise your blood nanogram level by 1, you need to consume an additional 100 IU of vitamin D each day.
So, for example, if you’re trying to increase your blood nanogram level by 10 nanograms (say, from 30 to 40), then you would need to add roughly 1000 IU of vitamin D per day.
Can You Get Too Much Vitamin D Per Day?
I’m sure some of you are wondering if it is dangerous to be getting too much vitamin D.
Well, there is indeed an upper limit for vitamin D consumption, but it isn’t at a level where most of us would even have to be remotely worried about it.
According to this study, you aren’t at risk of overdosing on vitamin D unless you exceed 40,000 IU each day for months, or 300,000 IU in a single day, which isn’t a realistic risk unless you’re unnecessarily megadosing on vitamin D supplements.
How To Get More Vitamin D In Your Diet
OK, so if you’re one of the many people that suffers from a vitamin D deficiency, what is the easiest way to rectify the problem?
As we touched on before, a simple and free way to get all the vitamin D you need is to spend more time in the sun.
It turns out that our bodies are capable of producing vitamin D fairly quickly, with some research showing that exposing just 25% of your skin to the sun for roughly 6 minutes will produce around 600 IU of vitamin D.
Unfortunately, this would still mean getting close to 60 minutes of sun exposure each day, which is more than many of us have time to get – and becomes almost impossible during the winter months.
For those of us that aren’t getting a lot of sun regularly, getting more vitamin D in your diet is another option to consider.
However, since most foods contain very little vitamin D, this isn’t easy to do on a regular basis.
Case in point, here is a list of the foods that contain the most vitamin d:
- Cod liver oil – 1300 IU per tablespoon
- Sword fish – 570 IU per 3 oz cooked
- Salmon – 450 IU per 3 oz cooked
- Tuna fish – 155 IU per 3 oz canned
- Vitamin d fortified orange juice – 137 IU per cup
- Vitamin d fortified milk – 120 IU per cup
As you can clearly see, aside from cod liver oil, which contains a fairly significant 1300 IU per tablespoon, you’d be hard pressed to get enough vitamin D from diet alone, unless you’re eating very, very carefully.
For this reason, for those of us who don’t get 30-60 minutes of sun each day – and who don’t relish the taste of cod liver oil – the easiest way to regularly get enough vitamin D is by taking a supplement.
Here a Vitamin D supplement we recommend:
- Life Extension Vitamin D3 5000 IU, which you can order from Amazon here for roughly $8 for a bottle of 60 softgels.
Thankfully, it is very affordable to supplement with vitamin D – it’ll cost you less than $5 a month to get more than enough vitamin D daily.
Note: This particular supplement contains vitamin D3 (also known as cholecalciferol), which is the natural type of vitamin D that your body would make from sunlight, and is considered by many experts to be the most preferable form.
The Bottom Line On Vitamin D Deficiency
As we’ve learned, it is actually very easy to treat a vitamin D deficiency with appropriate supplementation.
So if you’ve just taken a blood test and are dismayed by your current level, please don’t stress about it too much.
Instead, just start supplementing daily, and then see where your levels are in 2-3 months.
From the current research available, it would be almost impossible to get too much vitamin D, so just stick to just 1 softgel each day and you should be fine.