Are you getting enough sunshine this summer? If not, you may be at risk for vitamin D deficiency. Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is produced in the skin with exposure to sunlight. It aids in the absorption of calcium from the digestive system which is then used to maintain the balance of calcium in the bloodstream and promotes normal mineralization of bone. Insufficient levels of vitamin D are associated with rickets in children as well as the thinning of bone and osteoporosis in adults. In addition, research suggests that vitamin D may even be involved in the prevention of certain cancers, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include bone pain, fatigue, weakness and even cognitive impairment in the elderly. Most of the time, the symptoms are either mild or not present at all.
There are several things that put you at risk for vitamin D deficiency. Older adults typically have less ability to synthesize vitamin D in the skin, spend less time outdoors and may have less access to foods containing vitamin D. Patients with darker skin and limited sun exposure are also less likely to process vitamin D sufficiently. Those suffering from inflammatory bowel disease may not be able to absorb vitamin D properly. Obese patients may sequester vitamin D in fat cells and reduce the available amount of circulating vitamin D. Bariatric patients may not be able to absorb enough vitamin D due to removal of the upper part of the intestine. Restrictive diets, especially a vegan diet, may not provide enough vitamin D. If you fall into one of these groups, ask your doctor for a blood test to see if you are vitamin D deficient.
Good sources of vitamin D in the diet include those dairy supplements that are fortified with vitamin D, fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, egg yolks and mushrooms. Even some breakfast cereals are enriched with vitamin D. If you find it difficult to get your vitamin D from diet, supplementation may be in order. The Recommended Dietary Allowance of vitamin D for persons ages 1 through 70 is 600 units daily and 800 units for those aged 70 years and above.