8 Signs That Could Mean You’re Not Getting Enough Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency symptoms may not be obvious. If you notice any of these signs, consider seeing a doctor for a vitamin D blood test.
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A quick vitamin D primer
You walk in the sunshine every day (wearing your SPF, of course). You eat right. You get enough sleep. But you still may be missing something even if you’re doing all the right things—vitamin D. Though rare, severely low levels of vitamin D can cause rickets in children and osteomalacia (softening of the bones) in adults. Left untreated, these conditions can lead to bone pain, and thin, brittle, or misshapen bones, according to the National Institutes of Health. But recent research has suggested a connection between even moderately low levels of vitamin D and a number of surprising health conditions, including diabetes, osteoarthritis, and cancer. There are a number of sneaky signs that can point to a vitamin D deficiency, so if you’re suffering from any of them, talk with your healthcare provider, who will likely recommend a blood test. This is really the only way to accurately determine your vitamin D level. Then you can discuss ways to boost them, usually by taking an over-the-counter supplement.
You’re tired all the time
If you aren’t getting enough vitamin D, you may feel completely exhausted, even if you get plenty of sleep. “There is mounting evidence that vitamin D deficiencies are associated with fatigue and sleep disorders,” says Catherine G. R. Jackson, PhD, a professor of kinesiology and exercise science at California State University in Fresno. A study in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences found that people who felt tired had low levels of vitamin D, but raising their vitamin D to normal levels significantly reduced feelings of fatigue. Not the problem for you? You may have one of these other 13 medical conditions for feeling tired all the time.
Having the blues may be linked to an insufficient amount of vitamin D. According to the Vitamin D Council, vitamin D receptors have been found in many parts of the brain, including in areas linked to depression. Results from studies have been mixed—some researchers have found significant improvements in mood after supplementing with D, while others have not—but that could depend on the severity of the depression as well as the vitamin D deficiency. For example, researchers from Columbia University found that taking vitamin D supplements was effective for those who suffered from clinically significant depression.
Your bones hurt
Adults who don’t get enough vitamin D often have aches and pains in their muscles and bones, especially in the winter. Their joints are also a little stiffer in the morning. “Many aches and pains are symptoms of the classic vitamin D deficiency, osteomalacia,” says Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Soft bones are more likely to bow and fracture than ones that are healthy and hard. Here are some other simple ways to boost your bone health.
You’re experiencing erectile dysfunction
If you or your sexual partner is suffering from erectile dysfunction (ED), a lack of vitamin D may be to blame. A study in the journal Atherosclorosis found that men with a vitamin D deficiency were much more likely to have ED, and the lower the levels, the higher the risk factor. Some experts suggest that treating a vitamin D deficiency may decrease the risk of ED, says Angelone. So start taking those D supplements (or giving them to your partner), but just don’t make these common vitamin mistakes that many of us don’t realize we’re making.
You’re prone to stress fractures
“Most people think of a lack of calcium when talking about bone health, which is true. However, without vitamin D, calcium doesn’t get absorbed properly,” says Jennifer Giamo, a nutritionist, certified personal trainer, and founder of New York City-based Trainers in Transit. “Vitamin D, specifically D3, which increases calcium absorption, is critical to preventing bones from becoming thin and brittle.” A study in The Journal of Foot and Ankle Surgery found that people who participate in higher-impact activities may need greater levels of vitamin D to reduce their risk of stress fractures. Note, people with high levels of calcium in their bodies due to underlying illness may need to use low doses of vitamin D as a supplement, or avoid it altogether. In addition to the vitamin D deficiency symptoms that can put you at risk, make sure you know these signs of a calcium deficiency.
Your athletic performance could be better
Insufficient vitamin D may affect your fitness levels and muscle function. “You may not even realize you’re not performing at your best,” says Paige Waehner, a certified personal trainer and author of The About.com Guide to Getting in Shape. Giamo agrees. “Vitamin D deficiency is linked to increased inflammation. And after intense exercise, the body is inflamed,” she says. “If adequate amounts of vitamin D are already in the bloodstream, then the speed of recovery from intense exercise is increased.” Giamo warns, though, not to take vitamin D supplements if you aren’t deficient in the nutrient because it’s unlikely you’ll improve your athletic performance or recovery rate. “Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble hormone that doesn’t get excreted by the body, it could be potentially harmful if you take too much,” says Giamo. Thankfully, it’s hard to develop vitamin D toxicity if you are being prudent about dosage, so consult your doctor or pharmacist
You can’t get a good night’s sleep
Researchers found that people with sleep disorders who took vitamin D supplements improved the quality of their z’s—they fell asleep faster and slept longer, according to a study published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience. Of course, getting enough shut-eye every night can boost your health, but so can these other vitamin D benefits that could save your life.
You catch everything going around
Colds, viruses, the flu: You name it, you get it. But you might not have known that these could actually be vitamin D deficiency symptoms. “Vitamin D deficiencies are associated with depressed immune systems,” says Dr. Jackson. “You’ll catch whatever is going around if your immune system isn’t functioning properly.” A study published in the journal Nutrients found that adults who have low levels of vitamin D had a 58 percent higher chance of catching an acute respiratory infection. Higher levels of vitamin D may also help decrease recovery time from the flu. Don’t miss these other ways your body is trying to tell you it’s running low on key vitamins.
- Medline Plus: "Osteomalacia."
- National Institutes of Medicine: "Vitamin D Fact Sheet."
- Catherine G. R. Jackson, PhD, professor of kinesiology and exercise science, California State University, Fresno, CA
- Psychosomatic Medicine: "Vitamin D Supplementation for Depressive Symptoms: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials."
- North American Journal of Medical Sciences: "Correction of Low Vitamin D Improves Fatigue."
- Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- Paige Waehner, certified personal trainer, Glen Ellyn, IL
- Jennifer Giamo, founder, Trainers in Transit
- Atherosclerosis: "Vitamin D deficiency is independently associated with greater prevalence of erectile dysfunction: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2004."
- The Journal of Foot and Ankle Surgery: "Association of Vitamin D With Stress Fractures: A Retrospective Cohort Study."
- Nutritional Neuroscience: "The Effect of Vitamin D Supplement on the Score and Quality of Sleep in 20-50-year-old People With Sleep Disorders Compared to a Control Group."