In today’s health-obsessed culture, researching medical conditions online is something that happens pretty darn regularly. But most of the time, we’ll find ourselves thinking, “That could never happen to me.” It’s essentially how we keep ourselves from freaking out and running to the doctor every other week. But here’s the thing: Sometimes what you’re reading can affect you—and this is one of those times, so listen up!
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If you live in North America, there’s a very good chance you don’t get enough Vitamin D. About 42% of American adults are deficient in the nutrient, according to a Nutrition Research report, and other studies suggest that number is actually closer to 75%. Falling short on the nutrient isn’t something to brush off, either. Vitamin D deficiencies are associated with a slew of health concerns, including an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease. Plus, if you’re diagnosed with a serious condition like prostate or breast cancer, your chances of survival may be lower than someone with normal levels of vitamin D.
While these stats are alarming, they aren’t all that surprising. Vitamin D isn’t found in abundance in too many foods. (Things like wild salmon and fortified milk and yogurt are the exception.) And the only other way to get the nutrient is by exposing your bare skin to sunlight, something desk-bound office workers aren’t often able to do.
Taking a blood test is the best way to find out if you’re deficient in the nutrient, and insurance and Medicaid often cover the expenses, says Carole Baggerly, the director of GrassrootsHealth, a non-profit that aims to increase awareness about vitamin D deficiency. (Your levels should be between 45 to 50 µg/mL.) While trekking to the doctor to get poked with a needle may not be on your list of Fun Things To Do, it’s definitely a good use of your time—especially if you fall into any of these at-risk groups: