We all know that getting enough vitamins and minerals is essential for good health. But did you know that one of the most common vitamin deficiencies of years ago is making a comeback? Vitamin D deficiency is fast becoming one of the most serious health threats for the Western world. In fact, girls today are 56% more likely to break a bone than girls were just forty years ago, and boys are 32% more likely (The Vitamin D Solution by Dr. Michael F. Holick).
Another rather shocking fact is that the common bone disease of years ago, rickets, is making a comeback. In a recent study in Boston by Dr. Holick following forty newborns whose mothers were considered to be healthy (took prenatal vitamins and strictly followed all of their obstetricians guidelines including 90% drinking vitamin D fortified milk, and 100% eating fish regularly – a great source of vitamin D), after giving birth, 76% of the moms and 81% of the newborns were vitamin D deficient.
The statistics continue to come in regarding vitamin D deficiencies and diseases and ailments it causes. Dr. Holick, a veteran researcher in the field of vitamin D, states that his research, as well as the research of many others in the field, has led them to believe that vitamin D deficiencies can be linked to the following health problems:
- Heart disease
- Autoimmune diseases
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Chronic pain
- Many more health problems
In response to this alarming problem the American Academy of Pediatrics increased its recommended daily intake of vitamin D to double the previous amount for newborns, kids, and adolescents. The Academy cited the rise in rickets and newly found links between vitamin D deficiency and lifestyle diseases as the reason for the increase.
And it’s not just about bone health.
Vitamin D is well known as being crucial for strong bones and teeth but that’s not all. Today many studies show that this powerful vitamin is vital for much more than just our bones. Vitamin D has been shown to be vital for the following body functions:
Vitamin D is Essential for Life
- Cellular life (helps to prevent certain cancers and respiratory problems such as asthma)
- Organ health
- Muscle strength
- Immune health
- Brain health
- Mood related problems (depression, PMS, insomnia)
The importance of getting enough vitamin D in the diet has taken on worldwide attention by researchers and doctors. Many new research studies have been undertaken regarding the ‘sunshine vitamin’ that in 2007 was one of Time magazine’s Top Ten Medical breakthroughs. The results of these studies all point to vitamin D deficiencies as one of the biggest health problems today.
In a World of Medical Advances, Why is Our Health Regressing?
So what’s actually going on here? Why in our world of highly advanced medical technology, fortified foods, and supplements galore are we becoming more and more deficient in life-giving vitamins, particularly vitamin D?
Look up to the skies for your first clue in unraveling this mystery.
Over the past few decades the Western world has been taught (or many say brainwashed) to fear the sun. We’ve been scared off from getting any sun on our bodies at all these days. We all walk around with either protective clothing or covered in 50+ SPF sunblock, oftentimes both!
Our children are spending unprecedented hours inside; watching television, playing video games, texting, chatting online, and other indoor electronic activities have replaced playing in the woods, running through the sprinkler and other wholesome outdoor activities that seem to be from a world that’s all but passed.
Adults work inside, cooped up in office spaces, spend lunch breaks away from the vibrant outdoor world, and come home not to take a hike but crash on the couch and watch the latest reality show. When in fact, the reality is all this indoor time is literally making us sick!
The sun is the most potent source of vitamin D. The more we fear the sun and stay out of it, the more our lifestyle diseases are increasing and the sicker we, as a society, are becoming. The facts clearly show this to be true.
Vitamin D: A Vitamin or Hormone?
In understanding how important the sun is to your health it’s first vital to get a grasp on the ways vitamin D works in the body. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin (stored in the liver and fatty tissues) that actually acts as a secosteroid hormone within the body.
Vitamin D is difficult to obtain from diet alone and is actually made best through your skin. Once the skin has made the vitamin D, it is quickly released into the bloodstream. It then goes through two important processes, one in the liver and one in the kidneys, before it begins to act like a hormone.
The catalyst that is needed to create vitamin D in the skin is the ultraviolet rays of the sun. According to Holick, 90 to 95% of most people’s vitamin D comes from casual sunlight exposure.
You, SPFs, and Vitamin D
With our reluctance to get any sun exposure we’re risking eliminating our greatest source for making vitamin D in our bodies. When you wear sunblock, your body’s ability to produce vitamin D in the skin declines.
For example, if you wear sunblock SPF 8, you reduce your body’s ability to make vitamin D by 90%. If you choose a sunblock with a SPF of 30, you reduce your body’s ability by 99%.
Couple that with all the time we spend indoors now it’s no wonder so many in our Western world are vitamin D deficient.
Are You Vitamin D Deficient?
By this time you’re probably wondering if you too are deficient in vitamin D. Chances are high that you, like most people in the West, are vitamin D deficient.
Ask yourself a few questions to get a clearer picture of your levels of vitamin D.
- Do you avoid direct sun exposure?
- If you do go outside during the daytime hours do you wear sunblock or protective clothing?
- Do you live above 35 degrees latitude in the Northern Hemisphere? (north of Atlanta or Los Angeles)
- Do you take a vitamin D supplement?
If you tend to stay out of the sun, live in an area that has seasons with little sun, wear sunblock when you are out in the sun, and don’t take a vitamin D supplement then you are probably deficient in crucial vitamin D.
There’s only one test that accurately will reveal if you are vitamin D deficient. This is the 25-hydroxoyvitamin D test aka 25(OH) D test. If you are thinking about getting tested, be sure that your doctor uses only this test. Other tests can show normal or even elevated levels of vitamin D that are actually inaccurate and hide a serious vitamin D deficiency.
It’s important to take this vitamin D deficiency epidemic seriously. Honestly evaluate your own and your loved one’s potential for a vitamin D deficiency. Learn more about the most common symptoms of this dangerous deficiency and take action. Your health is in your hands, handle it with care.
Michael Holick, PhD, M.D. (2010)
Dr. Axe's Action Steps
- Evaluate your own risk of vitamin D deficiency.
- Get tested if you think you are vitamin D deficient.
- Learn more about safe sun exposure and get it on a daily basis.
- Formulate a plan with your health care practitioner to get your vitamin D levels up with supplements.