Vitamin D Deficiency: A Surprisingly Common Problemby Dave Heidloff | 2 Comments
As an athletic trainer, I see my fair share of broken bones, and anytime I can do anything to prevent them, I will. When I came across a recent study showing that as many as 70% of children in the US had inadequate levels of vitamin D (a necessary component to building strong bones), I knew I had to do something about it. After sifting through several research articles, I was reminded that vitamin D’s role extended far beyond bones as it may influence body weight, immune system function, and much more! With this vitamin playing so many important roles in the body, it’s comforting to know that although low vitamin D levels are common, they are also easily preventable with just a few easy adjustments to your routine or diet. Before we get into how to fix this problem, let’s talk about why it’s so imperative.
Vitamin D has several health benefits, one of which is helping to metabolize the minerals necessary to build strong, healthy bones that are more resistant to injury. That means that even though you may be taking in plenty of calcium, low vitamin D levels may be preventing your body from putting it to use. This leads to lower bone density, a higher risk of fractures, and possibly osteoporosis. Vitamin D plays a role beyond bone development, though. Several recent studies have looked into D’s role in the body and have found that normal levels may have the following benefits:
- Maintaining a healthy body weight – Some studies suggest that there is a link between regulation of body fat and vitamin D.
- A stronger immune system – Vitamin D plays an important role in immune cell function and deficiencies are linked to an increased susceptibility to infections.
- Prevention of rheumatoid arthritis – A recent study found that women with higher vitamin D had a lower risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
- Decreased asthma symptoms – One study found that children with adequate vitamin D levels had fewer severe asthma attacks than children with vitamin D insufficiencies.
- Lower risk of cancer – It looks like vitamin D may play a role in the body’s natural response to cancerous cells and may even be directly associated with lower rates of prostate cancer. (It should be noted that it is generally agreed that more studies related to cancer are necessary, but some applications appear promising.)
- Improved strength and balance – Supplementing with larger doses of vitamin D was shown to increase muscle strength in elderly men. Even more surprising was its effect on balance, which can have several life-long benefits.
The obvious question that begs to be answered is “How do I make sure I get enough vitamin D?” The single easiest way to ensure adequate vitamin D intake is to simply get 10-15 minutes of sun on your face and arms 2 times a week. While this doesn’t seem like much, it gets more difficult during colder months as our arms are covered and the lower intensity of sunlight increases the exposure time necessary. Since walking around in a t-shirt during the snowier months isn’t exactly an option and some people are uncomfortable with sun exposure in general, there are a couple of other options to get around the lack of sun.
- Vitamin D supplements – This one seems obvious. I recommend taking a supplement that contains D3 – a form of the vitamin more readily utilized by the body. The recommended intake is debated by experts, but is currently set at 600 IUs until the age of 70.
- Vitamin D found in foods – Salmon, tuna, mackerel, and vitamin D fortified milk tend to have decent levels of vitamin D. Beef liver, cheese and egg yolks are also sources, but tend to have lower amounts.
It’s obvious that our lifestyles are becoming increasingly indoor-centric, but fighting the trend to spend a little time outdoors can have dramatic positive effects on your overall health. Whether you find your D on the sidewalk, the supplement aisle, or the seafood section, I hope you find a way to make this amazing vitamin work for you.