Feeling tired and weak all the time? You may be lacking in vitamin D – one of the essential nutrients that your body needs to perform at its best. According to the non-profit Vitamin D Council in California, Vitamin D – often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” – plays a critical role in your overall health, managing calcium in your blood, bones and gut, and helping your body’s cells communicate with each other.
A body without enough vitamin D will find it hard to absorb calcium and phosphorus, resulting in weakened bones and teeth. In children, this can lead to a condition known as rickets, where the bones are so soft that the child often develops skeletal deformities. Vitamin D deficiency also weakens the immune system and the other systems in the human body, including the ones that control the functions of the heart, muscles, lungs and airways.
Scoring an A+ on your vitamin D levels
What's the best way to boost vitamin D in your body? Make it yourself. Among all the vitamins vital to good health, vitamin D is unique because it's the only one that can be produced by the human body. To get this process going, you need to expose your bare skin to sunlight. Depending on how light or dark your skin is, you may need between 15 minutes to a couple of hours a day of direct sun exposure; the darker you are, the longer it will take for your body to get enough sun to produce an adequate amount of vitamin D.
Supplements and food sources also provide secondary sources of vitamin D. During the winter months – or all year if you spend most of your time indoors – it's a good idea to bump up your vitamin D levels by taking supplements. Health Canada recommends daily Vitamin D intake of 400 international units (IU) per day for infants, 600 IU for everyone between the ages of one and 70, and 800 IU for those over 70 years old.
Vitamin D can also be found in foods such as fatty fish, beef liver, egg yolks, and fortified milk, orange juice and cereals. Keep in mind, however, that these foods have only small amounts of vitamin D.
Could you have a vitamin D deficiency?
A simple blood test, ordered by your doctor, can tell you if you have enough vitamin D in your body. In general, results of less than 25 nmol/L point to a vitamin D deficiency, while the range between 25 to 75 nmol/L signals a potential deficiency. At the high end of the spectrum, results of 250 nmol/L and over should also raise a red flag.
While certain testing centres use slightly different ranges, a good mid-point is 76-250 nmol/L - below that number signals deficiency and above suggests elevation.
Whether or not you’re experiencing symptoms that could be caused by a lack of vitamin D, it’s a good idea to monitor the levels of this nutrient in your body. Talk to your doctor about regular vitamin D level testing, and about how you can maintain healthy levels of this all-important sunshine vitamin.