While many of our vitamin requirements can be met with a healthy diet, vitamin D is found in few foods. Regular sun exposure is required for our bodies to make adequate amounts of what has been called “the sunshine vitamin”, but sometimes even that isn’t enough.
One of the most well-known of our body’s uses for vitamin D is bone strength. Bones are constantly changing, getting stronger and weaker over time as body conditions change. Just as strong bones require adequate calcium consumption, they also need sufficient levels of vitamin D. Without this important vitamin, our bones can’t utilize calcium properly, and bones are weakened. Advanced vitamin D deficiency can cause bone pain, muscle pain and weakness, and sometimes even muscle spasms. In addition to osteoporosis, there are other health problems that may be related to vitamin D deficiency. These include cancer, depression, diabetes, heart disease and even difficulty with weight control.
The practice of avoiding sun exposure to reduce the risk of skin cancer can result in vitamin D deficiency. Using sunscreen on all exposed skin before leaving the house every day effectively reduces skin cancer risk, but it also limits the amount of vitamin D our bodies can make from sunlight. Even spending time in the sun without sunscreen may not be sufficient during the winter or for people living in colder climates.
In addition, older adults are more likely to develop a deficiency than younger people. Older people tend to spend more time indoors and have higher vitamin D requirements than the younger population. Even with sun exposure, their skin doesn’t produce vitamin D as effectively.
Luckily, health supplements can be an alternative to avoid the health risks associated with vitamin D deficiency. Since our diets seldom contain adequate amounts of vitamin D, many people take vitamin D supplements. The recommended dose of 400IU per day may not be enough for someone who is vitamin D deficient. However, taking non-regulated or large doses of this vitamin can cause more harm than good. A doctor can monitor vitamin D levels with a blood test, and anyone suspecting they may be at risk for vitamin D deficiency should check with their doctor.