Besides bone health, some studies suggest vitamin D helps prevent both cancer and dementia. “In general, it’s one of the very important fat-soluble vitamins and is extremely important for overall health,” says Jeffrey Gladd, MD, integrative physician and member of Care/of’s scientific advisory board. Yet some studies estimate as many as half of Americans aren’t getting enough vitamin D. “Because of vitamin D’s role in the body, it’s one of the most important things to be testing,” Gladd says. Consider getting your levels tested if:
- You live in the northern half of the country.
- You spend little time (less than 15 minutes) in the sun per day.
- You’re African-American or Hispanic.
- You’re overweight or obese.
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Vitamin D deficiency is difficult to diagnose without testing a person’s blood levels, but if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, vitamin D deficiency might be why, Gladd says.
- Fatigue. “Vitamin D is one of the top five things that might be causing this,” Gladd says.
- Weakened immunity.
- Body aches. “A classic sign of vitamin D deficiency is vague bone pain or muscle aches,” Gladd says. “This is often core-based or in the spine and hips, but sometimes in the extremities.”
The first step to getting more vitamin D is going outside. “We don’t spend enough time in the sun anymore,” Gladd says. “On one hand, that’s a good thing because we’re burning our skin less, but we’re not getting enough sensible sun when we spend most of our time indoors.” Aim to spend time outdoors before 10 a.m. or after 5 p.m. when the sunlight is less direct, Gladd says. And always wear SPF, which will protect your skin from burning, but won’t stop vitamin D absorption.
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Dairy, eggs and fish are all good food sources of vitamin D, but Gladd says it’s difficult to get enough just by changing your diet. If your doc suggests you take a supplement, he recommends D3 rather than D2, but both forms have been shown to be good for bone health.
On the other hand, too much vitamin D is also a bad thing. If you’re taking vitamin D supplements and experience an unexplained upset stomach, diarrhea or conjunctivitis talk to your doc to make sure you’re not taking too high a dose.