How To Tell If You're Vitamin D Deficient

Photographed by Katie McCurdy.
As days spent enjoying the summer sun feel more like distant memories and you’re safely curled up in a blanket indoors practicing peak hygge, that lack of sunshine may be affecting your health. Vitamin D, which many of us know as the "sunshine vitamin," is naturally created when the sun’s UVB rays touch your skin, and it's important for bone and teeth health, as well as your immune system.

Sherry Ross, MD, OB/GYN and Women's Health Expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Centre in Santa Monica, CA, says that vitamin D should be considered a "priority vitamin" due to its many protective benefits, which extend far beyond bone health. Studies suggest that vitamin D may help ward off certain diseases, including multiple sclerosis, heart disease, and breast cancer.

But unfortunately, an estimated one billion people worldwide suffer from vitamin D deficiencies — and many of them may not realise they're vitamin D deficient, especially since people can be deficient during the warmer summer months when they feel as if they are getting plenty of rays. Symptoms of a deficiency can include general tiredness, muscle weakness, and muscle pain, but it's pretty hard to spot without getting a blood test.

"Vitamin D deficiency is a silent disease," says Dana G. Cohen, MD. "There aren’t really any signs or symptoms until it’s too late."

Ahead, we break down how to tell if you're vitamin D deficient.
How do you know if you’re getting enough vitamin D?
Like we said, symptoms can be vague, so you’ll have to get a vitamin D-specific blood test if you want to know for sure. According to Dr. Ross, this will determine your vitamin D level and show you how much you need to supplement with. Just remember: Because a vitamin D test isn’t part of a regular physical, you’ll have to make sure to ask your doctor for it.

What’s an ideal vitamin D level?
You’ll want your vitamin D level to be between 30-100 ng/mL, Dr. Ross says. Everybody is different, so ask your doctor what your target vitamin D level should be. Anything under 30 ng/mL is considered deficient, but you can fix that!

How do you increase your vitamin D intake?
Dr. Cohen recommends sun to skin exposure for at least 10 minutes a day to help your skin create vitamin D (but you’ll still need to rub on the SPF to prevent burning). Keep in mind that those with darker skin will not be able to absorb as many UVB rays and create as much skin-produced vitamin D as those with lighter skin. And it's unlikely that people who live in a colder climate will get a sufficient level of Vitamin D from the sun alone.

Many foods, like fatty fish and egg yolks, are touted for their high levels of vitamin D, but Dr. Ross says that eating your way to a healthy vitamin D level is remarkably difficult. The best way to become vitamin D sufficient (if you're deficient, that is) is by adding supplemental pills or liquid drops to your vitamin regimen.

"Unless you like cod liver, the best way to get vitamin D is via supplements," Dr. Ross says.

That said, it's important to speak with your doctor and get tested before adding vitamin D supplements to your vitamin regimen — taking too much vitamin D can be problematic, too. Knowing your own vitamin D level will inform how much you should take daily, so no need to run to the drug store until you discuss supplementation with your doctor.
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