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Understanding Vitamin D Deficiency

Spending significant time indoors could lead to a condition with some very negative side effects. Vitamin D has long been called the sunshine vitamin because it is largely produced in the body after absorption of the sun's rays. Without exposure to the sun, then it's very easy for a person to develop vitamin D deficiency, a condition affecting roughly 40 percent of the American public.

Many people understand vitamin D's role in promoting bone health, helping the body use the calcium consumed for strong bones. Vitamin D has often been linked to rickets, a condition in which bone tissue does not properly mineralize, resulting in weak, soft bones.

But the importance of vitamin D goes beyond bones. Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with various maladies, including cardiovascular disease, an inability to fight certain cancers, cognitive impairment, and increased risk of depression. Some research also indicates that vitamin D can help prevent or treat a number of conditions, including diabetes. Low levels of vitamin D may also attribute to schizophrenia and compound skin disorders like psoriasis.

Vitamin D is fat-soluble and is delivered to the body through fat cells. Individuals who are obese or have a high body fat index are more susceptible to vitamin D deficiency.

Although vitamin D is essential, many people take it for granted. It is virtually impossible to get all of the needed vitamin D through diet alone. Sunlight is the single most effective way to receive the vitamin D the body requires. Furthermore, this way of receiving vitamin D is entirely free.

The trouble with sunlight exposure is that many people spend more time indoors than outside. Furthermore, when outdoors, many are heeding the warnings of dermatologists and other health experts and lathering on sunblock products. While they protect the skin from harmful UV rays, SPF creams and lotions also inhibit the body's ability to absorb vitamin D from the sun.

Diagnosing vitamin D deficiency isn't always easy. Many times doctors mistake it for fibromyalgia, simply because muscle aches, pains and weakness are symptoms of each condition. Doctors can determine vitamin D deficiency through routine blood tests.

Sensible exposure to sunlight, around 15 minutes a day, 2 to 3 times a week could be enough to restore proper vitamin D levels. Otherwise, supplementation is an easy way to also increase vitamin D, primarily for those who are concerned about UV rays.

Individuals who are undergoing a routine physical that includes bloodwork may want to ask their doctors to screen for vitamin D levels, as well as other essential vitamins. A doctor can determine whether a person is lacking in vitamin D and prescribe a regimen that may include dietary changes, supplementation, or increased exposure to sunlight.