Why is vitamin D important?
Did you know that every cell in your body has vitamin D receptors? It helps control the balance of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus needed for healthy bone structure. It also supports the immune system and helps regulate our genes. Optimal vitamin D levels can help prevent:
- Osteoporosis and Ricketts
- Autoimmune diseases
- Cardiovascular disease
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Chronic bone, joint, and muscle pain
Signs of Vitamin D deficiency or Insufficiency
Vitamin D deficiency is a blood serum level below 20 ng/mL. Insufficiency is a level between 21-29 ng/mL. Severe deficiency is most common among elderly populations, especially those in nursing homes and those with liver or kidney problems. However, over 20% of the U.S. population may have suboptimal levels.
Common symptoms of low vitamin D levels include:
- Bone aches and pains
- Muscle cramps
- Muscle weakness
- Depression or sadness
- Hair loss
- Decreased appetite
- Bone loss
- Joint deformity
- Susceptibility to infection
Some evidence shows that optimal levels vary from person to person, and there is debate on the safe upper limit. Levels between 35-60 ng/mL are generally considered optimal. Vitamin D toxicity can happen when levels rise above 90 ng/mL for some people. Vitamin A, potassium, and magnesium help guard against vitamin D toxicity.
In addition to checking vitamin D levels with a 25(OH)D test, it is helpful to look at calcium and parathyroid hormone (PTH) levels. Vitamin D regulates the absorption of calcium. If calcium levels drop too low, PTH levels go up and cause calcium to be pulled from the bones to bring calcium in the blood back into balance. When this happens, it is a sign that vitamin D levels are insufficient, and supplementation is probably warranted. A PTH above 30 ng/mL is considered high. On the other hand, if a person’s PTH level is below 30 ng/mL, they likely do not need to increase their vitamin D intake.
Causes of vitamin D deficiency
The number one cause of deficiency is lack of exposure to natural sunlight. Most people spend their day indoors, and when they go out, they are either covered up or wearing sunscreen. Sunscreen blocks approximately 90-99% of the body’s ability to make vitamin D!
Another cause of deficiency is liver or kidney disease. The liver and kidneys convert vitamin D to its active form. When they are stressed, the conversion process is compromised.
What form of vitamin D is the best?
Vitamin D3 is the best form to supplement with because it is the most bioavailable form. Many practitioners recommend taking vitamin D3 in conjunction with vitamin K2. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, and vitamin K2 ensures that the calcium is transported to places like the bones and teeth rather than building up in the blood vessels or soft tissues.
Foods high in vitamin D include cod liver oil, wild salmon, mackerel, and sardines. Fermented foods like natto and sauerkraut and animal foods like liver and egg yolks are high in vitamin K.
Getting out in the sunshine for 15-20 minutes a day without sunscreen is a helpful strategy as well. Try to expose as much skin as possible, but cover up before the skin begins to burn. If you live in a northern climate, this will probably still not be enough to produce optimal vitamin D levels. However, the other benefits of sun exposure will still benefit your overall health.
It is best to work with your healthcare provider to look at all the right factors to determine whether your vitamin D status is optimal. If your levels are suboptimal, work with your practitioner to determine the appropriate level of supplementation. It is also valuable to re-check your levels every few months until they are optimized so you can adjust as needed.
Are you experiencing signs of vitamin D deficiency? Dr. Sisu can help you assess and optimize your levels to restore balance to your body!