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Detect and prevent vitamin D deficiency

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  • What is special about vitamin D?
  • What does vitamin D do in the body?
  • Does vitamin D affect protection against Covid-19 diseases?
  • What consequences can a vitamin D deficiency have?
  • How can I detect a vitamin D deficiency?
  • How do I cover my daily vitamin D needs?
  • What affects vitamin D absorption?
  • How can I compensate for a vitamin D deficiency?
  • Can I prevent vitamin D deficiency with a daylight lamp or in a solarium?
  • How long does it take to compensate for a vitamin D deficiency?

It’s cold, wet and “yucky” outside. Who wants to get out the door? Well, especially in the dark season, this is exactly what is important so that you can get your daily dose of UV rays, which stimulates vitamin D production in your body. Here we explain why a vitamin D deficiency is dangerous and how you can prevent it.

What is special about vitamin D?

As the only vital vitamin, the body can produce almost 90 percent of vitamin D itself through the absorption of sunlight (UVB light) in the skin. Unlike most other vitamins, only a small proportion of it can be absorbed through the diet.

Vitamin D is actually a hormone and the collective term for a number of fat-soluble compounds. The one we are talking about here is vitamin D3, which is converted into the hormone calcitriol in the liver and kidneys and can also be stored as calcifediol in muscle and fatty tissue. If you don’t get enough UVB light in winter to stimulate sufficient vitamin D production, the body can fall back on the stores – if you have replenished them well in sunnier times.

Since our vitamin D reserves can be used up as winter progresses, we need to additionally stimulate production. Otherwise, our immune system can weaken and our psyche, muscles and well-being suffer. In addition, without the protective effects of vitamin D, we are more susceptible to diseases such as osteoporosis, cancer and autoimmune diseases.

What does vitamin D do in the body?

These are the 3 main functions of vitamin D in the body:

  • Mineralization of bones: One of the most important functions of vitamin D is to maintain calcium and phosphate levels in the blood. Calcium and phosphate are essential for bone mineralization, they ensure that our bones are and remain hard and stable and prevent osteoporosis (bone loss). The better the body’s supply of vitamin D, the lower the risk of tooth loss, because the stability of our teeth also depends on the body’s calcium level.
  • Strengthen muscles: Vitamin D plays an important role in muscle metabolism; it makes an essential contribution to maintaining muscle strength and building muscle. Adequate vitamin D not only prevents muscle weakness, but also balance problems. However, an insufficient amount of vitamin D in the body significantly increases the risk of muscle weakness.
  • Strengthen your immune system: Vitamin D supports the functionality of our immune system both to fight pathogens and to inhibit excessive immune reactions.

Does vitamin D affect protection against Covid-19 diseases?

Already at the beginning of the corona pandemic, a possible connection between the vitamin D level in the blood and the severity of a possible corona infection was discussed. The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) formulated in a report in May 2021: “There is evidence that an insufficient vitamin D serum level is associated with an increased risk of acute respiratory infections. This also includes Covid-19 disease.”

Studies such as the one from Israel from 2022 now support the theory that a vitamin D deficiency increases the likelihood of a more severe course of Covid-19. The study showed that patients with vitamin D deficiencies were 14 times more likely to have a severe course and hospitalization.

If you feel clear signs of a vitamin D deficiency, talk to your doctor about supplementation. Otherwise: One more reason to go out into the daylight.

What consequences can a vitamin D deficiency have?

The immediate symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency are diffuse: common and often typical symptoms include fatigue, tiredness or depressive moods. In addition to listlessness and fatigue, many of those affected also struggle with headaches and increased basic nervousness. Many people also feel that their performance is reduced and inhibited by vitamin D deficiency symptoms. You may also experience back pain, weight gain, itching, hair loss, constipation or pimples. More frequent respiratory infections are also possible consequences of too little vitamin D in the blood.

Since there are many other possible causes for all of these symptoms, a precise medical diagnosis or a self-test makes sense before resorting to vitamin D preparations.

In the long term, adults with a vitamin D deficiency are at risk of decalcification of the skeletal bones and bone loss, a so-called osteomalacia or osteoporosis. The further it progresses, the greater the risk of falls and broken bones. Demineralization can also cause permanent damage to the teeth. Anyone who is prone to bone fractures can use a bone density measurement to determine whether they already have osteoporosis or its precursor, osteopenia. In this case, your doctor will recommend vitamin D therapy.

How can I detect a vitamin D deficiency?

According to a 2016 study by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), around 30% of Germans have a vitamin D deficiency. Other models even assume up to 60%. Whether you belong to this can be proven in your blood, to be precise by your blood calcidiol concentration. You can have this done by your family doctor. Alternatively, it is also possible to determine this value at home using a self-test. Instead of a full blood sample, we usually only work with capillary blood. After you have done the test yourself, you then send it to a laboratory.

How do I cover my daily vitamin D needs?

The Federal Office for Radiation Protection recommends around 12 minutes of UV radiation on uncovered skin areas per day in our latitudes. Although diet plays a minor role, you should still consume around 20 micrograms (800 IU) of vitamin D through your diet every day, recommends the German Nutrition Society (DGE). Fish, eggs and dairy products are among the best sources of vitamin D. You can find the foods with the most vitamin D here.

However, supplying vitamin D is more difficult for vegetarians and vegans. The majority of vitamin D foods are animal products. If you avoid it completely, you have to look even harder for vitamin D in foods. Because in plant-based products, vitamin D looks pretty poor.

What affects vitamin D absorption?

Above all, the time you spend outside in the sun, but also the latitude at which you live, as well as the time of year and day. Anyone who doesn’t do their rounds outside until late in the evening can definitely develop a vitamin D deficiency in winter.

By the way: If you only leave the house with sunscreen in the summer, it’s good for your skin and at the same time enough UV light still penetrates through the cream to sufficiently boost your vitamin D production.

In addition to the latitude, clothing itself can also have an influence, because vitamin D is produced in the skin. Anyone who covers a lot of skin, whether because of the weather or for religious reasons, receives less UV rays and therefore produces less vitamin D. Skin type and color also influence vitamin D absorption. The darker the skin, the longer it takes to absorb enough UV rays to produce sufficient vitamin D. This can be a problem for dark-skinned people living in northern latitudes.

Where you live and therefore the intensity of the sun also influence the amount of vitamin D you produce every day. People who live between the 42nd and 52nd parallels produce enough vitamin D from their daily dose of UV rays alone. Those who live further north (or south) and hardly eat anything rich in vitamin D have a more difficult time. Hamburg, for example, lies between the 53rd and 54th parallel – a little north of the ideal geographical location with regard to vitamin D absorption through UV rays.

But smoking and being overweight are also among the factors that can cause reduced vitamin D absorption. Diseases such as Crohn’s disease or medications that affect the absorption of vitamins and minerals in the intestines can also lead to deficiency.

How can I compensate for a vitamin D deficiency?

The first step can be to fundamentally change your lifestyle. First of all, attention should be paid to exercise, being outside and diet. As I said, roughly 80-90 percent of your daily vitamin D requirements can be met through the body’s own synthesis with the help of sunlight or UV rays. Depending on external and personal factors, just 5 to 25 minutes of sunlight per day is enough.

If this change is still not enough, substitution, i.e. nutritional supplements, can be used. This should definitely make an improvement. On the large market for nutritional supplements (NEM), these are primarily vitamin capsules or tablets. For those who cannot swallow tablets, such as children, vitamin D is also available in drop form.

You also have the option of taking combination preparations. In addition to vitamin D, these contain other vitamins or minerals. As an example, zinc is particularly useful in winter because the immune system is particularly challenged.

Capsules or drops are ideal as dietary supplements. Vitamaze’s 50ml bottle of Vitamin D makes up to 1700 drops. At least 20 micrograms should be taken per day. 1000 IU (international unit) gives 25 µg. Capsules are available from the market leader Vigantolvit, for example; one capsule contains exactly 1000 IU vitamin D.

Can I prevent vitamin D deficiency with a daylight lamp or in a solarium?

A daylight lamp can be very good for the soul in winter, but it cannot replace a walk in the open air. The reason: Daylight lamps are usually equipped with filters that filter out the UV components of the light that stimulate vitamin D production.

The solarium is also not a good idea because the health risks are great. Although the UV rays that your skin needs for synthesis reach the body, sunbeds pose major health risks. Instead, you should start with an endurance sport such as running, cycling, hiking or walking.

How long does it take to compensate for a vitamin D deficiency?

That depends on how severe the deficiency is, how much you change your diet and habits and take nutritional supplements. With a significant lifestyle change, you can quickly get your deficiency symptoms under control again.

But be careful: If the substitution is too strong, nausea, abdominal cramps or vomiting may occur. Therefore, you should not make rash substitutions without paying attention to the correct dosage or consulting your doctor.

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