By Franziska Spritzler
Vitamin D is an extremely important vitamin that has powerful effects on several systems throughout the body (1).
Unlike most vitamins, vitamin D actually functions like a hormone and every single cell in your body has a receptor for it.
Your body makes it from cholesterol when your skin is exposed to sunlight.
Vitamin D is an extremely important vitamin that has powerful effects on several systems throughout the body.iStock
It's also found in certain foods such as fatty fish and fortified dairy products, although it's very difficult to get enough from diet alone.
The recommended daily intake is usually around 400-800 IU, but many experts say you should get even more than that.
Vitamin D deficiency is very common. It's estimated that about 1 billion people worldwide have low levels of the vitamin in their blood (2).
According to a 2011 study, 41.6 percent of adults in the U.S. are deficient. This number goes up to 69.2 percent in Hispanics and 82.1 percent in African-Americans (3).
These are common risk factors for vitamin D deficiency:
- Having dark skin.
- Being elderly.
- Being overweight or obese.
- Not eating much fish or milk.
- Living far from the equator where there is little sun year-round.
- Always using sunscreen when going out.
- Staying indoors.
People who live near the equator and get frequent sun exposure are less likely to be deficient, because their skin produces enough vitamin D to satisfy the body's needs.
Most people don't realize that they are deficient, because the symptoms are generally subtle. You may not notice them easily, even if they are having a significant negative effect on your quality of life.
Here are eight signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency.
1. Getting Sick or Infected Often
One of vitamin D's most important roles is keeping your immune system strong so you're able to fight off the viruses and bacteria that cause illness.
It directly interacts with the cells that are responsible for fighting infection (4).
If you become sick often, especially with colds or the flu, low vitamin D levels may be a contributing factor.
In one study of people with the chronic lung disorder COPD, only those who were severely deficient in vitamin D experienced a significant benefit after taking a high-dose supplement for one year (10).
Bottom Line: Vitamin D plays important roles in immune function. One of the most common symptoms of deficiency is an increased risk of illness or infections.
2. Fatigue and Tiredness
Feeling tired can have many causes and vitamin D deficiency may be one of them.
Unfortunately, it's often overlooked as a potential cause.
In one case, a woman who complained of chronic daytime fatigue and headaches was found to have a blood level of only 5.9 ng/ml. This is extremely low, as anything under 20 ng/ml is considered to be deficient.
When the woman took a vitamin D supplement, her level increased to 39 ng/ml and her symptoms resolved (12).
However, even blood levels that aren't extremely low may have a negative impact on energy levels.
A large observational study looked at the relationship between vitamin D and fatigue in young women.
The study found that women with blood levels under 20 ng/ml or 21–29 ng/ml were more likely to complain of fatigue than those with blood levels over 30 ng/ml (13).
Another observational study of female nurses found a strong connection between low vitamin D levels and self-reported fatigue.
What's more, the researchers found that 89 percent of the nurses were deficient (14).
Bottom Line: Excessive fatigue and tiredness may be a sign of vitamin D deficiency. Taking supplements may help improve energy levels.
3. Bone and Back Pain
Vitamin D is involved in maintaining bone health through a number of mechanisms.
For one, it improves your body's absorption of calcium.
Bone pain and lower back pain may be signs of inadequate vitamin D levels in the blood.
One study examined the association between vitamin D levels and back pain in more than 9,000 older women.
The researchers found that those with a deficiency were more likely to have back pain, including severe back pain that limited their daily activities (17).
In one controlled study, people with vitamin D deficiency were nearly twice as likely to experience bone pain in their legs, ribs or joints compared to those with blood levels in the normal range (18).
Bottom Line: Low blood levels of the vitamin may be a cause or contributing factor to bone pain and lower back pain.
A depressed mood may also be a sign of deficiency.
In one analysis, 65 percent of the observational studies found a relationship between low blood levels and depression.
On the other hand, most of the controlled trials, which carry more scientific weight than observational studies, didn't show a link between the two (19).
However, the researchers who analyzed the studies noted that the dosages of vitamin D in controlled studies were often very low.
In addition, they noted that some of the studies may not have lasted long enough to see the effect of taking supplements on mood.
Bottom Line: Depression is associated with low vitamin D levels and some studies have found that supplementing improves mood.
5. Impaired Wound Healing
Slow healing of wounds after surgery or injury may be a sign that vitamin D levels are too low.
Results from a test-tube study suggest that the vitamin increases production of compounds that are crucial for forming new skin as part of the wound-healing process (23).
One study on patients who had dental surgery found that certain aspects of healing were compromised by vitamin D deficiency (24).
It's also been suggested that vitamin D's role in controlling inflammation and fighting infection is important for proper healing.
One analysis looked at patients with diabetic foot infections.
It found that those with severe vitamin D deficiency were more likely to have higher levels of inflammatory markers that can jeopardize healing (25).
Unfortunately, at this point there is very little research about the effects of vitamin D supplements on wound healing in people with deficiency.
However, one study found that when vitamin D deficient patients with leg ulcers were treated with the vitamin, ulcer size reduced by 28 percent, on average (26).
Bottom Line: Inadequate vitamin D levels may lead to poor wound healing following surgery, injury or infection.
6. Bone Loss
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in calcium absorption and bone metabolism.
Many older women who are diagnosed with bone loss believe they need to take more calcium. However, they may be deficient in vitamin D as well.
Low bone mineral density is an indication that calcium and other minerals have been lost from bone. This places older people, especially women, at an increased risk of fractures.
In a large observational study of more than 1,100 middle-aged women in menopause or postmenopause, researchers found a strong link between low vitamin D levels and low bone mineral density (27).
However, a controlled study found that women who were vitamin D deficient experienced no improvement in bone mineral density when they took high-dose supplements, even if their blood levels improved (28).
Regardless of these findings, adequate vitamin D intake and maintaining blood levels within the optimal range may be a good strategy for protecting bone mass and reducing fracture risk.
Bottom Line: A diagnosis of low bone mineral density may be a sign of vitamin D deficiency. Getting enough of this vitamin is important for preserving bone mass as you get older.
7. Hair Loss
Hair loss is often attributed to stress, which is certainly a common cause.
However, when hair loss is severe, it may be the result of a disease or nutrient deficiency.
Hair loss in women has been linked to low vitamin D levels, although there is very little research on this so far (29).
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease characterized by severe hair loss from the head and other parts of the body. It's associated with rickets, which is a disease that causes soft bones in children due to vitamin D deficiency (30).
One study in people with alopecia areata showed that lower blood levels tended to be associated with a more severe hair loss (33).
In a case study, topical application of a synthetic form of the vitamin was found to successfully treat hair loss in a young boy with a defect in the vitamin D receptor (34).
Bottom Line: Hair loss may be a sign of vitamin D deficiency in female-pattern hair loss or the autoimmune condition alopecia areata.
8. Muscle Pain
The causes of muscle pain are often difficult to pinpoint.
In one study, 71 percent of people with chronic pain were found to be deficient (37).
The vitamin D receptor is present in nerve cells called nociceptors, which sense pain.
One study in rats showed that a deficiency led to pain and sensitivity due to stimulation of nociceptors in muscles (38).
One study in 120 children with vitamin D deficiency who had growing pains found that a single dose of the vitamin reduced pain scores by an average of 57 percent (40).
Bottom Line: There is a link between chronic pain and low blood levels of the vitamin, which may be due to the interaction between the vitamin and pain-sensing nerve cells.
Correcting a Vitamin D Deficiency is Simple
Vitamin D deficiency is incredibly common and most people are unaware of it.
That's because the symptoms are often subtle and non-specific, meaning that it's hard to know if they're caused by low vitamin D levels or something else.
If you think you may have a deficiency, then it's important that you speak to your doctor and get your blood levels measured.
Fortunately, a vitamin D deficiency is usually easy to fix. You can either increase your sun exposure, eat more vitamin D rich foods or simply take a supplement.
Fixing your deficiency is simple, easy and can have big benefits for your health.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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