Vitamin D can have powerful effects on several systems in the body. The nutrient helps your body absorb calcium—essential for bone strength—and has a role in your nervous, muscle, and immune systems. Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiencies are common; it’s estimated that about 1 billion people worldwide have low levels of it in their blood. According to a 2011 study, 41.6 percent of adults in the United States are deficient. This might be because although the body can produce vitamin D from cholesterol when exposed to sunlight, there are very few foods that contain the nutrient naturally.
Factors that put you at risk for vitamin D deficiency include having dark skin, being elderly, being overweight, eating minimal amounts of fish or milk, and not being exposed to much sunlight.
A lack of vitamin D can have a significant negative effect on quality of life. To better understand this subtle condition and improve your well-being, look through the list below and ask a medical professional if you could have a vitamin D deficiency.
Frequent sickness or infections
Vitamin D keeps your immune system strong so you can fight off the viruses and bacteria that cause illness. If you find that you’re becoming sick often, especially with colds or the flu, low vitamin D levels may be to blame.
Excessive fatigue and sleepiness may be a sign of vitamin D deficiency. Taking supplements may help boost energy levels if you’re constantly feeling run-down.
Bone and back pain
Vitamin D is involved in maintaining bone health because the nutrient improves your body’s ability to absorb calcium. Therefore, low blood levels of the vitamin may be a cause or contributing factor to bone pain and lower back pain.
Depression is associated with low vitamin D levels and some studies have found that supplements of the nutrient can improve the moods of those suffering from mental illness.
Problems healing wounds
Insufficient vitamin D levels may lead to a slower process of healing wounds following surgery, injury or infection.
An indication that calcium and other minerals have been lost from bone, low bone mineral density can be a sign of vitamin D deficiency. Without adequate amounts of the nutrient, older people, especially women, are at an increased risk of fractures and osteoporosis. Getting enough vitamin D is essential to preserve bone mass despite aging.
Hair loss in women has been linked to low vitamin D levels, although more research is still needed to better understand the correlation. Additionally, low vitamin D levels are linked to alopecia areata—an autoimmune disease characterized by severe hair loss—and may increase the likelihood of developing the disease.
Experts have found a link between chronic muscle pain and low blood levels of vitamin D, which may be due to the interaction between the nutrient and pain-sensing nerve cells called nociceptors.
Even though vitamin D deficiency is incredibly common, most people are unaware of it because the symptoms are often subtle and it can be difficult to determine the causes behind them. If you’re concerned about getting the vitamins your body needs, talk to your doctor and get your blood levels measured.
Fortunately, a vitamin D deficiency is usually easy to fix. Even if you don’t want to bake in the sun and cause an even larger array of health complications, you can get the vitamin by taking a supplement or eating more vitamin D-rich foods—fatty fish, some shellfish, egg yolks, mushrooms and fortified foods (i.e. milk, soy products, orange juice, cereal and oatmeal).