Why It’s Important to Know Your Vitamin D Status
To observe Vitamin D Awareness Week, we felt it worth to summarise exactly why it is important for you to know your vitamin D status. As you will see below, the consequences of remaining oblivious of a possible vitamin D deficiency can be extremely unpleasant and disabling. If you do not know how to get yourself tested, you can learn in the final section of this article.
The Importance of Vitamin D Testing
Vitamin D Deficiency is Widespread
Vitamin D deficiency is common in the developed world. In Europe and the United States, around half of the population over the age of 50 is vitamin D deficient. About a third of all healthy adults have the same problem. At least 50 per cent and possibly as high as 80 per cent of American and European teenagers struggle with it too. The chance is thus good that your vitamin D levels are too low.
Vitamin D is Scarce
Vitamin D is genuinely difficult to obtain. Vitamin D3, the form the body prefers, is, with the exception of tiny amounts in fatty fish and cod liver oil, unavailable from the food you eat. Sunlight – from which your body produces it – is in short supply for at least six months a year, and even when it's available, air pollution and the amount of time you spend working indoors between 11 AM and 3 PM severely limits your exposure to it. Moreover, if you have a darker skin, wear sunscreen or wear clothes over your face and arms, you receive very little direct sunlight on your skin. Lastly, foods that are fortified with it are obviously, according to the above statistics, not going to give you enough.
Vitamin D Deficiency Lacks Clear Symptoms
Short of a direct test, there is no definite way to know whether you have sufficient levels of vitamin D. Deficiency can lay the groundwork for many diseases, as you will see below, but even if you contract one of these, you still won't know whether it's due to vitamin D deficiency without getting tested.
The Consequences of Vitamin D Deficiency are Severe
Vitamin D deficiency is serious and can lead to a long list of either extremely painful or potentially fatal diseases like the following:
- It causes bone diseases like osteomalacia, osteopenia, and osteoporosis, which cause your bones to become soft, brittle, and thereby prone to painful fractures even when you do nothing other than walking or lifting objects. In children it causes a disease called rickets, which not only softens bone but also deforms it.
- It causes a long list of cancers, including prostate, colon, breast, ovarian, colon, rectal, gallbladder, laryngeal, thyroid, brain, and pancreatic cancer, the latter being particularly deadly. One scientist calculated that every year, 50,000 to 63,000 Americans and 19,000 to 25,000 British people die of cancer because of insufficient vitamin D, probably because adequate vitamin D reduces your risk of pancreatic cancer by 30 per cent.
- It causes both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. A healthy vitamin D intake during childhood can decrease your chance of developing diabetes 1 up to 31 years later, while an adequate intake can reduce your diabetes 2 risk by between 33 and 41 per cent.
- It causes inflammatory diseases like asthma and respiratory tract infections.
- It has been associated with multiple sclerosis.
- It increases your risk of catching flu and tuberculosis.
- It increases your risk of high blood pressure, atherosclerosis and heart disease, including the likelihood of heart attack, stroke and death.
- It can cause your baby to be born with low birth weight and slightly underdeveloped.
- It increases your chance of pre-eclampsia during pregnancy and of being forced to have a caesarean section.
- Tentative research shows that it may also lead to brain disorders and cognitive and psychological diseases like Parkinson's disease, impaired memory, behaviour modification, cognitive dysfunction, Alzheimer's disease, language impairment, schizophrenia and depression.
- It causes autoimmune diseases like Crohn's disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
How to Test Your Vitamin D Level
Vitamin D is usually tested as the amount of 25(OH)D that circulate in your bloodstream. The result is expressed as nmol/L (nanomole per litre) or ng/ml (nanograms per millilitre). If you receive an nmol/L score, you can divide it by 2.496 to get your ng/ml score. If you receive an ng/ml score, multiply it by 2.496 to get your nmol/L score. Typically, while Americans use ng/ml, the rest of the world uses nmol/L.
The easiest way to get tested is to ask your doctor to draw some blood and send it off to a laboratory, especially if you have health insurance that covers this. As many doctors do not prioritise vitamin D deficiency as a significant health problem, however, they may not want to test for it on the NHS. You then have two options. Firstly, you can prick your finger and collect the blood on a strip of paper or in a tiny bottle. Ask your doctor or your nearest University's medical faculty for the name of a laboratory that accepts private submissions. You can then send it in and have such a laboratory tested for you.
Alternatively, the easiest solution may be to order a test kit online from a laboratory or an organisation that partners with a laboratory. This normally consists of an instruction sheet, a blade, a paper strip to collect the blood, and even plasters to patch yourself up. Follow the instructions carefully, and return the blood you collect in the envelope that is usually included with the test.
City Assays is British and offers home-based blood tests (£28 per testing kit), the result of which is tested in an NHS lab. They offer a discount on the more tests ordered – so you might want to mention this to your friends and family.
How to Obtain Sufficient Vitamin D
According to many organisations, the minimum amount of vitamin D in your blood should be 20 ng but most scientific studies show that a minimum of 30 ng/ml is necessary to avoid the diseases listed above. A good approach is to aim for anything between 30 and 50 ng/ml or 74.8 and 124.8 nmol/L. It is impossible to get this test score from food, and even from British sunlight, although sunlight would be ideal if you can manage to be outside between 11 AM and 3 PM on most days when the sun is directly overhead. If 15 minutes of direct sunlight between 11 AM and 3 PM every day is impossible, as it is during this time of the year, vitamin D supplementation is by far the best option to ensure that you have to actively remain healthy.
Why not check out our free ebook, "The Simple Steps to Optimum Health." Over the course of 60 pages we cover topics such as nutrition, hydration, stress, alkaline balance, digestion, detoxification and exercise. We all want to live long, healthy, energised lives and although body biochemistry is complex, understanding it is key to improving your overall wellbeing. Our ebook outlines recommended steps to nurture a healthier you.