Are You Vitamin D Deficient? 6 Signs You’re Not Spending Enough Time Outside

By Nick Nicholson, MD

Vitamin D — a.k.a. the “sunshine vitamin” — is essential for strong, healthy bones, and may protect against multiple diseases and health conditions such as cancer, type 1 diabetes, heart disease and multiple sclerosis. While vitamin D is found in some foods, the primary source of vitamin is spending time in the sun. Our bodies produce vitamin D as a response to sun exposure.

Surprisingly, many children and Adults in the U.S. aren’t getting enough vitamin D. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 32 percent of children and adults are vitamin D deficient, while other health agencies and researchers suggest the number may be as high as 50 percent of the general population. It’s estimated that the vast majority of senior citizens (more than 95 percent) may be vitamin D deficient because they spend more time indoors and our bodies produce less vitamin D in response to sun exposure as we age.

Vitamin D deficiency is common in people who always wear sun protection, or who limit their outdoor activities. Patients who undergo weight loss surgery are also at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency. Bariatric surgery and Vitamin D deficiency have been strongly linked in a number of studies, but there are things patients can do to maintain healthy levels.

Are you vitamin D deficient? Here are some signs you may not be getting enough of the sunshine vitamin:

You have a darker complexion. Skin pigment acts as a natural sunscreen, so the more pigment in your skin, the less vitamin D your body produces when it is exposed to the sun. People who have dark skin may need as much as 10 times more sun exposure to produce the same amount of vitamin D as someone with fair skin.

You feel “blue” or depressed. Researchers have found a link between low levels of vitamin D and depression. Serotonin levels — the hormone responsible for elevating mood — rises with exposure to sunlight, and falls with decreased sun exposure. If you live in a cloudy climate or don’t spend much time outside, you can get the blues due to a lack of vitamin D.

You are overweight or obese. Vitamin D is fat-soluble, so the more weight you carry, the more diluted vitamin D becomes in your body. People who are overweight or obese require more vitamin D than slimmer people.

You have achy bones and stiff joints. Because vitamin D promotes bone health, if your bones ache or your joints are stiff, it may simply be because you aren’t getting enough vitamin D. In some cases, individuals may be misdiagnosed as having fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome when in fact they are vitamin D deficient.

You have a gut disorder. Crohn’s, celiac disease, non-celiac gluden sensitivity and inflammatory bowel syndrome are all gut disorders that can affect your body’s absorption of nutrients like vitamin D. 

You are over 50. The older you get, the less vitamin D your body produces as a result of sun exposure. With age, the kidneys also become less efficient at converting vitamin D into a form your body can use. These factors, coupled with the fact that people tend to spend less time outside the older they get, makes senior adults more prone to vitamin D deficiency.

How much vitamin D do you need? Adults need about 8,000 IUs (international units) of vitamin D daily. While vitamin D supplements are available, the best source of vitamin D remains the sun. The good news is that it doesn’t take much time outside to get your daily dose of vitamin D. Someone who is fair skinned only needs about 10 minutes of unprotected time in the sun (shorts and a tank top with no sunscreen) to get enough radiation to produce about 10,000 IUs of the sunshine vitamin. As a general rule of thumb, aim to be outside about half the time it would take you to get a mild sunburn. If you get sunburned after 30 minutes of unprotected time in the sun, then spend 15 minutes a day outside without sunscreen.

To find out if you are vitamin D deficient, talk to your doctor.

About the Author

One of the most experienced weight loss surgeons in the country — Dr. Nick Nicholson — along with a full staff of surgeons, nurses and other experienced clinicians, help patients reverse obesity with LAP-BAND, Gastric Bypass, Sleeve Gastrectomy, Gastric Balloon and Revisions.

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