According to a 2009 report in the “Archives of Internal Medicine,” as many as 77 percent of the American population is vitamin D deficient. This has become a widespread health concern as vitamin D deficiency has been linked to many symptoms and conditions, such as bone health, autoimmune diseases, cancers, obesity, and fatigue and muscle weakness. With an increase in the diagnosis of such conditions as fibromyalgia, physicians like Dr. James Dowd, an associate professor of medicine at Michigan State University, believe vitamin D deficiency may be the real diagnosis of many of these conditions.
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What Is Vitamin D Deficiency and Its Symptoms?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that the body’s skin naturally produces when exposed to the UVB rays from the sunlight. It can also be found in foods such as fortified milk and oily fish like salmon. Vitamin D is measured in the blood as 25 hydroxyvitamin D. Normal blood levels are expressed in nanograms per milliliter, or ng/mL, and should fall between 30 and 80. Individuals with a blood level under 30 are considered deficient.
How Does Vitamin D Affect Weight Gain?
According to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, vitamin D and a hormone called leptin work together to regulate body weight. Leptin is produced in the body’s fat cells and works by sending a signal to the brain to let an individual know they are full and to stop eating. Vitamin D helps to keep leptin and this signal working properly, but when a person is vitamin D deficient, that signal gets disrupted and the body no longer knows it is full. This causes many people to overeat.
Vitamin D and Fatigue
When Dowd first moved his medical practice from Texas to Michigan, he began to notice a decline in his health. He had symptoms of fatigue and sore and stiff joints, similar to what his patients with fibromyalgia suffered. He made the decision to change his diet and began taking a vitamin D supplement and the symptoms went away. While Dowd was aware that vitamin D deficiency caused fatigue, pain and persistent weight gain, he was unaware at the time how prevalent vitamin D deficiency was. He began looking at the vitamin D levels of his patients and treating them with vitamin D supplements, and the symptoms of fatigue and pain went away within weeks for many patients. He has now become an advocate for vitamin D awareness and has even written a book, titled “The Vitamin D Cure.”
Treating Vitamin D Deficiency
Treating true vitamin D deficiency should be done under the supervision of a physician. You should begin by having your 25 hydroxyvitamin D blood level taken and evaluated. If the results show that you are deficient, your physician will start you on a course of treatment to bring your blood level into the optimal range. According to vitamin D researcher and physician Dr. Michael Horlick, the standard treatment for vitamin D deficiency is eight weeks of 50,000 international units of vitamin D once a week. After this time, your levels will again be tested and either this course will continue or you will be placed on a maintenance dose of vitamin D.