Are You Vitamin D Deficient?

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If you live north of the line connecting San Francisco to Philadelphia and Athens to Beijing, odds are that you don’t get enough vitamin D.

The same holds true if you don’t get outside in the sun for at least 15-minutes daily. Considering the winter we experienced this year, hardly any of us would have met that minimum criteria.

Signs that a person is suffering from low levels of Vitamin D can include, depression, chronic bone or muscle pain, fatigue, Insomnia, erectile dysfunction.

Just last week, Kris, an Ultrasound Technician at Shoshone Medical Center, started feeling unusually tired and depressed.

Kris explains, “My family kept asking me why I was so cranky! I’m usually the spunky one and I started feeling anxious and exhausted. That’s not like me at all. I knew something was wrong so I went to my doctor.”

Knowing the symptoms and prevalence of Vitamin D deficiency in our region, the doctor ordered a blood test including Vitamin D levels. “My doctor called me right away and told me take Vitamin D supplements and get outside any time the sun is out. It’s only been a week but I am already starting to feel so much better.”

Vitamin D is a star nutrient these days, as research links it to numerous health benefits.

Studies suggest vitamin D may go beyond its well-established role in bone health and reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and more.

What makes vitamin D unique is that it is a vitamin and also a hormone your body can make from the sun.

Despite the ability to get vitamin D from food and the sun, an estimated 40-75 percent of people are deficient.

Why? Because vitamin D is not abundant, nor easily, absorbed from our food choices and the sun is not a reliable source for everyone.

Many factors affect the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D including season, time of day, latitude, air pollution, cloud cover, sunscreen, body parts exposed, skin color, and age. Dermatologists recommend using sunscreen and getting vitamin D from food and supplements rather than risk the harmful rays of the sun, but smart sun exposure is the body’s best and most natural method of producing this necessary vitamin.

Vitamin D is needed for maximum absorption of calcium from the intestine. Together with calcium, vitamin D can help prevent osteoporosis in older adults.

Without enough vitamin D, bones can become brittle and prone to fracture.

It is estimated that more than 40 million adults in the U.S. have or are at risk of developing osteoporosis.

When sun exposure is not an option, it may help to eat vitamin D rich foods include egg yolks, saltwater fish, and liver.

Some other foods, like milk and cereal, often have added vitamin D. You can also take vitamin D supplements.

Check with your healthcare provider to see how much you should take.

Also ask your provider about getting your vitamin D level checked through a simple blood test.

If your vitamin D is low and you are over the age of 50 or have a family history of osteoporosis ask about a DXA bone density screening to make sure your bones are healthy.

Both tests can be performed locally at Shoshone Medical Center.

Talk to your primary care provider or call (208) 784-1221 for more information.

WebMD Expert Column, Harvard School of Public health, and Reader’s Digest contributed to this article.

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