Until this year, I didn’t know much about Vitamin D.  I knew that it was largely the result of getting adequate sun exposure.  Lack of sun exposure has been linked to depression, especially in areas without lots of sunshine.  Seasonal affective disorder is common in areas with extreme winters since people tend to stay inside more.

But there’s more to it than that.  So much more!

While most vitamins can be obtained from food, vitamin D isn’t as readily available in food.  Because most of us spend the daytime hours indoors and wear sunscreen while outdoors, many of us do not get enough vitamin D.

The symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency mimic other illnesses and can be hard to diagnose without a blood test.  A healthcare provider knowledgeable in the deficiency may recognize the symptoms easily and test for it early on.

Below are some common Vitamin D deficiency symptoms:

Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms

  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Low bone density or fractures
  • Fatigue and generalized weakness
  • Muscle cramps and pain
  • Joint pain
  • Blood sugar fluctuations
  • Weakened immune system
  • Mood changes and irritability
  • Depression
  • Low calcium levels in the blood

Depression is one of the most common symptoms resulting from a deficiency.  Research has found that people with low levels of vitamin D were more likely to be depressed than those with normal levels.  Scientists have linked vitamin D deficiencies with psychiatric and neurological disorders.  The brain contains receptors in which the vitamin may affect proteins that play a role in mood, learning, memory, and social behavior.  While there can be many other causes of depression, eliminating a vitamin deficiency such as vitamin D or magnesium is a good place to start.

How to Test for Vitamin D Deficiency

Your healthcare provider can do a simple blood test to determine if you are deficient.  The test is called the 25-hydroxy vitamin D test and is the most accurate way to measure the level of vitamin D in your body.  If your insurance does not cover the test or you are not able to visit a doctor, home tests like this one are available for minimal cost.  Healthcare providers will do a fasted blood draw while the home tests require only a finger stick.

The normal range is considered to be 30.0 to 74.0 nanogram per milliliter (ng/mL) but a healthy minimum level is somewhere around 50 ng/mL.  Levels below 20 ng/mL are considered serious deficiency states.

How to Raise Vitamin D Levels

The good news is that vitamin D deficiencies are easily correctable using inexpensive natural remedies.

  • Get more sun exposure.  Exposing your skin to the sun for 10 to 30 minutes each day can help your body produce vitamin D.  Try walking outside midday for a few minutes.  Not only is this a good way to replenish vitamin D, it will help you get some exercise as well.  Be careful to not over-expose yourself to the sun as this can result in a dangerous sunburn.
  • If sun exposure is not an option, try a light box like this one.  30 minutes a day will provide the same benefit when you are not able to get outside during peak times, live in upper latitudes, or work nights.
  • Take supplements.  Supplementation is the safest, easiest and most effective way to raise vitamin D levels.  Supplements are available in most grocery and drug stores in doses from 1000 IU to 5000 IU.  The general recommendation is for adults to take 2000 IUs daily but your healthcare provider may recommend a higher dose.
  • Eat foods high in vitamin D.  Because vitamin D is not common in food, many foods are fortified with it.  You’ll see many cereals, milk, and juice labels stating that they have been fortified with additional vitamins.

Have you ever had your vitamin D levels checked?  How do you ensure that you get plenty of vitamin D?  Tell me in the comments below!

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