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Are you deficient in vitamin D? Here’s why it’s a big deal


With three quarters of American adults deficient in vitamin D, it might be tempting to dismiss this condition as something that is common and therefore not a big deal. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s a look at why vitamin D matters more than you think if you want to live longer and avoid disease.

The first thing that a lot of people associate with a lack of vitamin D is rickets, and while the soft, weak bones this causes is indeed problematic, it’s nothing compared to the other diseases you could face if you don’t get enough of this important vitamin.

One of the most serious problems vitamin D can help prevent is cancer. Studies have shown that people with the highest levels of vitamin D in their blood have the lowest likelihood of being diagnosed with cancer; this group enjoys a 22 percent lower risk compared to those who have the lowest levels of the vitamin. The findings were part of a large public health study in Japan involving more than 140,000 adults.

Researchers have also found a link between a vitamin D deficiency and depression. A meta-analysis conducted in 2013 showed that people with low levels of vitamin D had a significantly higher risk of depression, and it’s believed that this vitamin’s important role in brain function is behind the effect.

People who have the highest levels of vitamin D also have the longest telomeres. That might not mean much to you on the surface, but these DNA protein structures responsible for protecting our chromosomes are considered a marker of biological aging. Telomeres shorten as you age, and anything that stops them from shortening too rapidly can enhance your health. Longer telomeres protect your DNA, and vitamin D and its metabolites help to keep your telomeres long.

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This could help explain, at least in part, why studies have shown that people who have cancer can prolong their life by taking vitamin D supplements. In one study, those who took vitamin D had a 13 percent lower chance of dying from cancer than people who took a placebo.

Are you getting enough vitamin D?

The precise amount of this vitamin that you need depends on a variety of factors. The general range suggested by the U.S. Institute of Medicine is 400 to 800 IU on average, but some people need as many as 5000 IU to maintain blood levels above the 30 ng/ml considered “sufficient”.

The best source of vitamin D, hands down, is sun exposure. Your skin creates this vitamin when it’s exposed to the UV rays of sunlight – but keep in mind that this doesn’t happen when you’re wearing sunscreen.

Although a lot of factors go into getting enough vitamin D from the sun, experts say that those who fail to get around 15 minutes of sun exposure between the hours of 10:00 am and 3:00 pm several times per week are at risk of deficiency, generally speaking. Even this may not be enough if you live at a northern latitude.

You can also find vitamin D in foods like salmon, mackerel, and other fatty fish, but it’s difficult to get enough of the vitamin through diet alone, which is why many people rely on supplements to ensure they’re not falling short.

People with darker skin tones, those who are obese, and older people are particularly at risk of a vitamin D deficiency. If you notice symptoms like fatigue, bone aches, muscle weakness, or depression, get tested for vitamin D levels and take swift action to correct any deficiency that is uncovered. Overlooking the importance of this vitamin could have serious consequences for your health.

Sources for this article include:

MindBodyGreen.com

BMJ.com

Healthline.com



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