Muscle aches, bone pain, cramps and depression. When someone with these symptoms comes to him, Josh Whitmer, a certified nurse practitioner (CNP) with ProMedica Physicians Internal Medicine, orders a blood test. What he finds most often is that the person has low vitamin D levels.
“It’s just so common in the northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan area to have vitamin D deficiency because in this area, there’s not much sun, especially in the winter months,” he says.
Whitmer suggests 10-15 minutes of sun each day on an area of the skin to help maintain adequate vitamin D levels. Because vitamin D is synthesized in the skin (which means vitamin D is actually a hormone), in areas with little sun, there’s little chance of that happening naturally.
“Also, fear of sun damage and skin cancer scares people so they cover up and use sun screen, which prevents the vitamin D from synthesizing,” Whitmer says.
Why We Need Vitamin D
Humans need vitamin D to absorb calcium and promote bone growth, Whitmer says. Too little vitamin D results in soft bones in children and fragile, misshapen bones in adults (osteomalacia). Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to heart disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, depression and weight gain.
Studies have also shown that vitamin D might be helpful in treating or preventing autism, autoimmune disease, chronic pain, diabetes, high blood pressure and osteoporosis, Whitmer says.
Those most susceptible to vitamin D deficiency are the elderly, the overweight, people in prison (lack of sunlight) and those who have osteoporosis, Whitmer says. He adds, “People who’ve had chronically low vitamin D levels have also been shown to have a higher incidence of dementia.”
Gender is irrelevant in the incidence of vitamin D deficiency, Whitmer says.
Best Sources of Vitamin D
Natural foods high in vitamin D include fish oils, fatty fish, mushrooms, beef liver, cheese and egg yolks. Sun exposure on skin is a great source of vitamin D. In addition, vitamin D is added to many foods, including cereal, milk and orange juice.
Whitmer suggests taking a supplement every day, especially during the winter months. “I think everyone should use supplements because most people really do not get enough vitamin D through their diets alone.” He recommends people take 600IU to 1,000IU a day and also discussing it with their primary care providers before starting on any supplement regimen.
So, if you have muscle pain, cramps, fatigue, bone pain or depression, please seek medical advice from your primary care provider, Whitmer says. “I also want people to know they should feel comfortable requesting a blood test, if one has not been requested. We want to partner with people in keeping them healthy. It’s a two-way street.