Wondering why you can’t seem to shake that cold or stomach infection with medication? Chances are an underlying Vitamin D deficiency could be jeopardising your recovery.
Vitamin D is stored and synthesised in the body naturally, activated by the liver and kidney when exposed to the sun (hence, the nickname “sunshine vitamin”). It’s key to maintaining calcium and phosphate levels in the body as well as keeping our immune system healthy.
Several factors have contributed to the rising incidence of Vitamin D deficiency. The main one being lack of proper exposure to sunlight – because we don’t spend enough time outdoors. Our sedentary lifestyle is another problem. It’s found that people who are overweight/obese are more prone to Vitamin D deficiency. Since Vitamin D is a fat soluble compound (i.e. it only dissolves in fat and is stored in fat throughout the body), a high fat deposition in the body creates a greater demand for Vitamin D. Research has also shown people with dark skin pigmentation are more at risk as their skin colour blocks the sun’s ability to stimulate Vitamin D production. (Applying too much sunscreen can lead to a similar problem.) Genetic and other medical conditions such as liver and kidney disease can also cause a shortfall.
A Vitamin D deficiency isn’t easy to diagnose, as it doesn’t always cause symptoms until levels become very low or have been low for some time. But some of more alarming signs to watch out for include:
Knotted muscles and joint pains
The body absorbs calcium with the help of Vitamin D and lack of calcium results in low bone density. Usually, people who experience muscle or joint pain think their calcium levels are low and take supplements for that without even realising that the real problem is Vitamin D deficiency.
Problems in the digestive tract can cause inadequate absorption of Vitamin D. So if you experience chronic gas, bloating and constipation or “irritable bowel” syndrome, you should get your levels checked.
Shortage of Vitamin D impacts that immune system. So if you find yourself catching colds more than once or twice per month, it may be because your levels are low.
Serotonin, the brain hormone associated with mood elevation, falls with decreased sun exposure.
Stunted growth (in children)
This applies specifically to children. Kids who appear too short for their age should get their Vitamin D levels tested, and a calcium deficiency may be stunting their growth.
What’s the best way to make up for a Vitamin D shortfall?
An average adult needs 100-200 IU of Vitamin D daily. While doctors do recommend supplements and injections to boost Vitamin D levels in the body, it’s important to know that spending time in the sun is the best way to beat the shortfall. Spend a minimum of 15 minutes outdoors in the morning, from 8 am until noon. Exercise or walk during this time, wearing light coloured clothes, to gain full benefit of sun exposure.
While the number of foods that contain Vitamin D are few, remember that without the help of fat, it cannot be absorbed or utilised in the body. So following the right diet is important. These are some foods you can choose from daily:
- A 200-300 ml glass of milk
- Two 50 g pieces of oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines
- 30 g serving of whole soya beans or dried beans like rajma, chana
- 1 egg yolk
- 30 g serving of mushrooms
These simple guidelines will ensure your Vitamin D levels remain in check and will keep those scary symptoms at bay.