Because the human body cannot produce vitamin D on its own, it needs to come from an outside source. Vitamin D is provided by absorption into the body via sunlight and through foods and supplements that contain the essential nutrient. Even though vitamin D can be found in certain foods and through supplements, a deficiency can still occur if there is inadequate exposure to sunlight.
Those who live at northern latitudes, follow a strict vegetarian diet, have a milk allergy, suffer from obesity or have a darker skin pigment are usually at a higher risk of having a vitamin D deficiency. Infants who are solely breastfed have also been found to have a deficiency because breast milk contains a small amount of vitamin D.
In most cases, a vitamin D deficiency is not easy to recognize. Muscle weakness, fatigue, muscle spasms and bone pain are common symptoms but in more severe cases, the deficiency can lead to rickets -- is a disorder that can cause impaired growth in addition to dental and skeletal deformities. Your family physician can do a simple blood test if you are worried that you or your family might be at risk.
Many experts have recommended spending at least 15 minutes a day in the sunshine. For these few minutes, the skin should not be covered with sun block so that it can fully absorb the vitamins. If you're going to stay out longer, make sure to then protect your skin from the UV rays by applying sunscreen protection.
If it's in the middle of winter and the sunshine is limited, eating the proper foods and taking a vitamin D supplement can help. A few foods that are vitamin D fortified are certain types of fish, eggs, breakfast cereals and whole milk. However, diet most likely will not give the body the amount required for building and maintaining bone strength. Most multi-vitamins usually contain small or no amount of vitamin D, so a supplement along with a healthy diet can help make up for a lack of sunlight.
Consult with your doctor about the amount of vitamin D you're getting each day, how you can improve your diet and which supplements to take. Make sure to let them know how much exposure to sunlight you are getting or if you are pregnant or lactating because it will affect the amount of vitamin D that is needed.
If you are found to have a deficiency, treatment usually consists of taking a higher dose of supplement of vitamin D, either with injections or by mouth, and can last for a couple of months or possibly longer.
Having a vitamin D deficiency can create serious problems that can affect your body for the rest of your life. The great news is that there is a simple solution for most people. Find time during your busy day to get outside. Take a walk on a lunch break, read a book, or take the kids to the park to let the sun work its magic. For those who can't get out, add vitamin D fortified foods and supplements that can give you what your body needs.
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