Vitamin D deficiency is a growing problem and our health is paying the price
A growing focus on protecting the skin from sun damage and an abrupt shift to indoor lifestyle due to the Covid-19 pandemic has led to vitamin D deficiency in many parts of the world. Besides bone health, Vitamin D has many roles in the body and its blood levels should be maintained within the normal range for optimal health.
In this article, I am sharing 12 secrets about Vitamin D and why it’s crucial for your health (and your hair). I will also discuss how to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays and still get enough Vitamin D.
1. Vitamin D is really a hormone and not a vitamin.
A vitamin is an essential nutrient that our body must obtain from food. A hormone on the other hand, is made in the body. Vitamin D, which has the chemical structure of a steroid molecule, is derived from cholesterol and is similar to the adrenal and sex hormones. Unlike other vitamins, vitamin D functions like a hormone, and every single cell in your body has a receptor for it.
2. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble hormone with several forms.
Vitamin D is a group of fat-soluble vitamins that are essential for maintaining healthy bones and optimal health. The most important forms in humans are vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) and vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol). Vitamin D3 is the more common form, which can be found in food or made from sun exposure on skin. Vitamin D2 is derived from fungal and plant sources, but both types of this vitamin are available over the counter.
3. The liver and kidneys convert Vitamin D2 & D3 to the active forms.
Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3 are converted to 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D or calcidiol] in the liver. 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D or calcidiol] is later concerted in the kidneys and other tissues to 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D [1,25(OH)2D or calcitriol]. Calcitriol is the most metabolically active form of vitamin D.
4. There are 2 forms of Vitamin D to check for in a blood test but only one form correlates with Vitamin D deficiency or excess.
It’s important to know your vitamin D levels, because you need it for so many different functions in the body. The main form circulating in the blood is 25(OH)D.
Although 1,25(OH)2D is the most metabolically active form of vitamin D, it does not reflect serum vitamin D levels because it is short-lived and serum 1,25(OH)2D is frequently normal or even elevated in those with vitamin D deﬁciency, due to secondary hyperparathyroidism.
5. Besides bone health, Vitamin D has many roles in the body.
- Promoting healthy bones and teeth.
- Supporting immune, brain, and nervous system health.
- Regulating insulin levels and supporting diabetes management.
- Supporting lung function and cardiovascular health ( reduced risk of flu and covid-19).
- Influencing the expression of genes involved in cancer development.
- Preventing autoimmunity e.g. lupus, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes.
- Improving fertility.
- Supporting mental wellness.
6. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to hair loss
Is your hair falling out? Are you experiencing hair loss, hair thinning or hair breakage? If so, you may want to get your Vitamin D levels checked! A 2017 study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences found that low vitamin D levels have been linked to:
- Telogen effluvium, or excess hair shedding
- Alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder where hair falls out in clumps
- Female pattern hair loss
7. Some dietary sources of Vitamin D
- Oil-rich fish such as salmon, mackerel, and herring
- Shiitake mushrooms.
- Foods and beverages fortified with vitamin D, such as milk and other dairy products, orange juice, and some grain products
- Multivitamins and other supplements
8. What is the normal range of Vitamin D
30 – 100 ng/ml of 25(OH)D is the normal range. Levels less than 20-29 ng/ml is Vitamin D insufficient, while <20 ng/ml is Vitamin deficiency
9. Low vitamin D concentrations can result from:
- Inadequate sunlight (especially common in winter and in people with darker skin color)
- Dietary deficiency
- Poor vitamin D absorption e.g after weight loss surgery or in persons with Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Impaired metabolism of sterol in the liver
10. Who should have vitamin D testing?
The Endocrine Society recommends regular screening for individuals at risk for deficiency. These include patients who have:
- Osteoporosis, osteomalacia and rickets
- Chronic kidney disease
- Diseases that require certain medications (anti-seizure medications, glucocorticoids, AIDS medications, antifungals, cholestyramine)
- Malabsorption syndromes, including inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, history of bariatric surgery
- Hepatic failure
Screening is also recommended for:
- African American and Hispanic children and adults
- Pregnant and lactating women
- Older adults with history of falls
- Older adults with history of nontraumatic fractures
- Obese children
- Obese adults
11. Is there a seasonal effect on Vitamin D blood levels?
The seasons significantly impact our vitamin D levels, which can make supplementation more necessary during the winter months. The average blood level of Vitamin D in Americans is lowest at the end of February and highest at the end of August due to seasonal changes in sun position
12. For best absorption, supplement with Vitamin ADK (Vitamin A, D3, K2)
Vitamin D3 needs help from Vitamin K2, a cofactor that is essential for normal bones and is also known to help with blood circulation and Vitamin A, an antioxidant, that supports the immune system.