Salmon and mushrooms

Understanding Your Risk for Vitamin D Deficiency

By: Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD

Whether it’s touted as a reason to head to the tanning salon (please don’t go), an additive in your favorite buttery spread, a lab test your doctor orders or a supplement the pediatrician recommends, vitamin D is all the buzz at medical appointments, grocery stores and beyond. What’s this vitamin all about and what are the ways to prevent deficiency?

Vitamin D is important for absorption of calcium and phosphorus, bone and teeth structure, neuromuscular function and cell growth. The four fat-soluble vitamins – A, D, E and K – are dependent on the gut’s ability to absorb dietary fat. If our digestive system isn’t totally cooperating, such as with conditions like celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease, the need to address the underlying issue or to consider extra vitamin D in our diets could be appropriate.

There are a few groups at risk of vitamin D inadequacy, however, including breastfed-only infants, older adults, and those with limited sun exposure, dark skin, fat malabsorption or obesity, along with people who have undergone gastric bypass surgery.

Some of the signs of and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are: getting sick or infected often, fatigue, bone and back pain, depression, slow wound healing, bone loss, hair loss and muscle pain.

A June 2019 article in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics reveals that testing for vitamin D status has increased eightfold since 2004 and notes that the most cited reason the test is performed in those under 60 years old is because of a diagnosis of depression. This same article suggests that we may be overthinking vitamin D deficiencies based on a hyper-interpretation of Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDI) cutoffs when, in fact, normal limits noted on many lab reports may be above the range considered adequate. The RDA is 600 IU (International Units) or 15 mcg (micrograms) for anyone 1 to 70 years old.

Natural dietary sources of vitamin D are scarce and consist of mostly eggs, fish and mushrooms. Thankfully, there are fortified foods to help increase our intake:

  • Milk (dairy and nondairy) – check out “Silk® Unsweetened Soymilk” with 30% DV (Daily Value) vitamin D
  • Yogurt (dairy and nondairy)
  • Juice – like “Tropicana Trop50® with Calcium + Vitamin D Orange Juice” with 25% DV vitamin D
  • Margarine
  • Cold cereal – give “Kroger® Crunchy Raisin Bran Cereal” a try with 25% DV vitamin D

How about some enlightenment? Vitamin D is the “sunshine vitamin.” See what I did there? The sun’s rays convert vitamin D in our skin to active previtamin D3, which ultimately becomes active vitamin D. So get outside a little!

It’s worth noting that the potential for vitamin D toxicity does exist. This would only be seen at intakes that exceed 4,000 IU or 100 mcg on a regular basis from dietary supplement use. Excess sun exposure is not a risk factor for vitamin D toxicity. But do remember to wear sunscreen!

As always, speak with your doctor about vitamin levels and any additional concerns you may have about your risk of health issues.

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