Vitamin D deficiency may seem like a strangely specific issue to be concerned about. But as it turns out, being low in vitamin D is a much more serious health problem than you might imagine. Experts have estimated that as many as 1 billion people worldwide across all age groups and ethnicities have a vitamin D deficiency.
So what makes vitamin D so important? According to the Cleveland Clinic, the vitamin is one of several essential nutrients that our bodies needs in order to stay healthy. One of vitamin D’s most well-known roles is working alongside calcium to not only build bones, but to also keep them strong and healthy. Vitamin D helps block the release of the parathyroid hormone, which makes bones weak and brittle. Additionally, experts think the vitamin assists in muscle function and in maintaining the immune system in tip-top shape. In short: It’s paramount that you get enough vitamin D for optimal health and well-being. According to the Mayo Clinic, the recommended vitamin D intake for adults is 600 international units (IU) per day. For folks over 70, that number increases to 800 IU per day. Luckily, most healthy adults are able to avoid vitamin D deficiency through their diets and safe exposure to sunlight.
However, some people are at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency due to certain medical conditions, such as cystic fibrosis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, obesity, and kidney and liver diseases. Folks who are getting older may be more at risk for being low in vitamin D as well — age affects the ability of the skin to make vitamin D. Other people who are homebound or otherwise rarely outside are also at risk. According to the Cleveland Clinic, certain medications can even cause vitamin D deficiency, such as laxatives, weight-loss drugs, and cholesterol-lowering drugs. Being seriously low in vitamin D puts you at risk for major health issues later on, such as the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis or even osteomalacia, which can cause soft, weak, and painful bones, according to Hormone Health Network. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye out for the most common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency, so you can stop a big problem before it starts.
Common Signs of Vitamin D Deficiency
- A history of falls
- Frequent infections
- Long-lasting body aches
- General difficulty getting around
- Bone fractures without significant trauma
According to the Vitamin D Council, the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can be vague, and some people low in the vitamin don’t get any symptoms at all. If you have reason to suspect that you may be low in vitamin D, talk to your doctor. You’ll need a blood test in order to confirm the condition. If it turns out that you are deficient, your doctor may recommend supplements for treatment. Luckily, there are simple ways for most healthy adults to prevent this problem in the first place.
How to Prevent Vitamin D Deficiency
- Eat foods high in vitamin D. Some foods that naturally contain the vitamin include beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, mushrooms, and fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel.
- Soak up the sun — safely. It’s important to remember that getting vitamin D from the sun is not an excuse to spend prolonged time outside with your skin exposed. Always put on sunscreen if you’ll be outside for a while.
- Consider adding fortified foods to your diet. Because so few foods naturally contain the vitamin, you can find products with added vitamin D. Some foods commonly fortified with vitamin D include milk, breakfast cereal, orange juice, yogurt, and soy beverages, according to Medline Plus.
- Talk to your doctor about vitamin D supplements. If you suspect you may be at risk for vitamin D deficiency, consult with a medical professional about taking pills for preventative purposes. Be sure to find out the exact number of pills you need to take, how often you need to take them, and how long you need to follow this routine.
This story originally appeared on our sister site, First for Women.