How many hours per day do you spend outside soaking up the sun? For most of us, the answer is not many. In fact, it’s estimated that Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors! As such, it’s not surprising that vitamin D deficiency affects roughly 50-80% of the population.
Vitamin D (aka the “sunshine vitamin”) is a remarkable substance. Unlike other nutrients that we mainly get from our diet, vitamin D is synthesized in our bodies when our skin is exposed to sunlight. Since dietary sources of vitamin D are extremely limited, we primarily rely on our daily dose of sunshine to maintain healthy levels of this essential nutrient.
Why does it matter how much vitamin D we get?
Vitamin D is involved with numerous skeletal and biological functions throughout the body. Specifically, vitamin D is required for the development and maintenance of bone density and strength, optimal immune functioning, balanced insulin secretion, blood pressure, and emotional wellness. Vitamin D deficiency has even been linked to certain chronic illnesses, such as cancer.
Although a simple blood test can tell you how much vitamin D is in your system, it’s not routinely ordered by most physicians. Moreover, what is considered a “sufficient” amount of vitamin D varies by age, ethnicity, gender, and health status.
As we head into the holiday season with shorter days (and busier schedules), our opportunities for getting adequate sunlight become fewer and further between. Here are 5 signs that you may be deficient in vitamin D.
While feeling fatigued can be a symptom of many conditions, it’s one of the most prevalent signs of vitamin D deficiency. Studies reveal that there is a very high incidence of low vitamin D in patients who complain of fatigue, as well as a significant reduction in the severity of fatigue (fatigue symptom scores) after patients improve their vitamin D levels, regardless of the absence or presence of other chronic conditions.
Medical researchers postulate that vitamin D deficiency may manifest as fatigue through a related increase in systemic inflammation and/or hormone imbalances. Furthermore, vitamin D is essential for the growth and release of red blood cells into circulation. Therefore, a vitamin D deficiency can contribute to anemia, which may show up as fatigue, shortness of breath, and other unpleasant symptoms.
- Muscle, Bone, and Joint Pain
Many people with vitamin D deficiency experience muscle, bone, and joint pain or weakness. Along with increased inflammation, studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency can lead to alterations in our pain receptor activity, especially those of skeletal muscle.
Additionally, osteomalacia (a softening of the bones) is a consequence of chronic low vitamin D levels. Osteomalacia often starts out as lower back pain, which then spreads to other areas of the body. If left untreated, this can lead to osteoporosis, a decrease in bone density which increases bone fragility and the risk of bone fracturing.
- Increased Infections and Illness
Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating our immune response to infection. Specifically, vitamin D has been linked to the enhancement of “innate immunity”, our first line of defense against pathogens.
Interestingly, several observational studies have found an inverse correlation between individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 and their vitamin D levels.
“Vitamin D is important to the function of the immune system and vitamin D supplements have previously been shown to lower the risk of viral respiratory tract infections,” said David Meltzer, MD, PhD, Chief of Hospital Medicine at UChicago Medicine. “Our statistical analysis suggests this may be true for the COVID-19 infection.”
Experts suggest that there is a connection between mental well-being and vitamin D levels. Researchers behind a 2013 meta-analysis noticed that study participants with depression also had low vitamin D levels. The same analysis also found that people with low vitamin D were at a much greater risk of depression.
This is not surprising given that the active form of vitamin D is not only metabolized in the kidneys and liver, but also in the brain. In fact, a 2005 study identified vitamin D receptors in the same areas of the brain associated with depression.
It’s also been established that vitamin D plays an important role in serotonin and melatonin functioning, two hormones which are important in regulating sleep and mood.
- Hair Loss
Vitamin D is metabolized in the skin by keratinocytes. This is a type of cell that processes keratin, the main protein in hair, nails, and skin. When the body isn’t getting enough vitamin D, keratinocytes in hair follicles aren’t able to adequately regulate hair growth and shedding.
Additionally, a 2020 study in the International Journal of Dermatology found that vitamin D deficiency may play a role in the development and severity of androgenetic alopecia, aka male pattern baldness.
“Vitamin D and hair loss are very closely intertwined,” says Anna Chacon, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and hair loss expert in South Florida. “Both vitamin D deficiency, as well as vitamin D excess, may cause hair loss”.
Getting Enough Vitamin D
While vitamin D should not be taken excessively or indefinitely, most people can benefit from supplementing with vitamin D on occasion. B12 LOVE offers vitamin D as a quick and easy IM injection. A lab test is not required for a vitamin D shot, but it is very helpful, especially if you suspect that you are deficient. Ask one of our licensed medical professionals for more information about vitamin D and how it can support your health goals.
Written by Emily Crichton, RN. Co-Authored by Catherine MacDougall, RN