The Sunshine Vitamin: Addressing Vitamin D Deficiency



It’s that time of year again – time to have your yearly physical. I had mine recently, and my blood tests revealed that I have a vitamin D deficiency (hypovitaminosis D). Often referred to as the “Sunshine Vitamin,” vitamin D is necessary for bone health and calcium metabolism. According to my doctor, vitamin D deficiency is very common in the state of Michigan and one of the causes is inadequate exposure to sunlight, especially during the winter months. To correct this deficiency, I was prescribed Vitamin D2 (1.25mg/50,000 units) to be taken twice a week for three months. I was also prescribed 500mg of magnesium oxide, which helps the body assimilate vitamin D.

Before I started taking the vitamin supplement, I did some research of my own, because I wanted to know about the difference between vitamin D2 and D3, and I also wanted to be aware of any side effects from taking such a large dosage at one time. My pharmacist eased my concerns. She told me that the vitamin D would be released slowly into my system, so there are little, if any, side effects. She also told me that if my doctor prescribed it, it was very important that I take it.

Dr. Raathathulaksi Krishnamohan, Academic Chief Resident at McLaren Flint, answered the following information about vitamin D deficiency.

Q: What does it mean when your doctor diagnoses vitamin D deficiency?

A: When vitamin D levels are low, people are at risk of developing bone problems, such as Rickets disease in children and osteomalacia in adults. Although there is no strong evidence, there is data supporting that vitamin D deficiency may be associated with multiple sclerosis, depression, fatigue, diabetes and hypertension.

Q: What are the differences between vitamin D2 and vitamin D3?

A: Vitamin D2 is obtained from plants, whereas vitamin D3 is either made in the skin as a result of sun exposure, or absorbed from consuming fatty fish. Research has shown that vitamin D3 may be more efficient than D2 in restoring the vitamin D storage. Although absorption of vitamin D2 and D3 are similar, they are metabolized differently by the liver. Due to the difference in metabolism, D3 is more efficient to treat deficiency than D2. Vitamin D3 may be less toxic than D2, because higher concentrations of D2 circulate in the blood when consumed, since it does not bind as well as D3 to the receptors in the human tissues. Vitamin D3 is more stable on the shelf than D2, and is more likely to remain active for a longer period of time when exposed to different conditions (temperature, humidity and storage).

Q: Why is vitamin D deficiency prevalent in the state of Michigan?

A: The main source of vitamin D is its synthesis in our bodies, which starts in the skin with the help of sunlight. Since sun exposure is limited in Michigan due to seasonal changes, vitamin D deficiency is commonly seen in Michigan residents and those in other winter-predominant states. Dark skin tone, obesity, aging and malabsorption syndrome are some other causes of vitamin D deficiency.

Q: What is the treatment for vitamin D deficiency?

A: Vitamin D3 supplementation is the simple, effective way to treat vitamin D deficiency. High-risk people who are dark-skinned, obese, or get limited sun exposure, as well as people with osteoporosis and malabsorption syndrome, can benefit from testing for deficiency. Depending on the level of deficiency, a doctor will prescribe the appropriate dose of D3 supplement. American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 400 IU per day of vitamin D3 for breast-fed infants. Adolescents and adults need about 600-1,000 IU per day of vitamin D3. There is insufficient evidence to recommend screening for vitamin D deficiency in the low-risk population.

Q: Are vitamin D supplements safe?

A: They are generally considered to be safe. It takes a very high vitamin D dosage to reach toxicity and cause any adverse effects.

Q: What can you do to prevent becoming vitamin D deficient?

A: Generally, regular sun exposure for 10-15 minutes may reduce the risk; however, sun exposure may also increase risk of skin cancer. Dark skin tone and advanced age reduce the skin’s vitamin D3 production.

Q: What foods are rich in vitamin D and should be included in your diet?

A: Dietary availability of vitamin D is limited. Milk, salmon or mackerel, canned tuna, fortified cereal and yogurts, fortified orange juice, cod liver oil and shiitake mushrooms are some of the available options.

Vitamin D deficiency is incredibly common and most people are unaware of it, because the symptoms are often subtle and non-specific.

Vitamin D

According to vitamin D is referred to as the “Sunshine Vitamin” and is an extremely important vitamin that has a powerful effect on several bodily systems. Unlike other vitamins, it functions like a hormone and every single cell in your body has a receptor for it. Your body makes vitamin D from cholesterol when your skin is exposed to sunlight. It’s also found in certain foods, such as fatty fish and fortified dairy products, though it’s very difficult to get enough from diet alone.

Vitamin D deficiency is very common – it’s estimated that about one billion people worldwide have low levels of the vitamin in their blood. According to a 2011 study, 41.6 percent of adults in the U.S. are deficient. This number rises to 69.2 percent in Hispanics and 82.1 percent in African-Americans.

Risk Factors

Risk factors for vitamin D deficiency include: being dark-skinned, elderly, overweight or obese, not eating much fish or dairy, living far from the equator where there is little sun year-round, always using sunscreen when going out, and staying indoors. People who live near the equator and get frequent sun exposure are less likely to be deficient, as their skin produces enough vitamin D to satisfy their bodies’ needs.

Most people don’t realize that they’re deficient, as symptoms are generally subtle. You may not recognize them easily, even if they’re having a significant negative effect on your quality of life.

8 Signs & Symptoms

  • Frequent illness or infection
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Bone and back pain
  • Depression
  • Impaired wound-healing
  • Bone loss
  • Hair loss
  • Muscle pain

Bottom Line

Vitamin D deficiency is incredibly common and most people are unaware of it, because the symptoms are often subtle and non-specific. If you think you may have a deficiency, it’s important that you speak to your doctor and get your blood levels measured.

Fortunately, a vitamin D deficiency is usually easy to treat. You can either increase your sun exposure, eat more vitamin-D-rich foods, such as fatty fish or fortified dairy products, or simply take a supplement. Fixing your deficiency is easy and can have big benefits for your health.




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