THE HEALTH AND FITNESS BLOG
September 29, 2022 – By Dr. Haider Khalid
When it comes to Vegan’s Vitamin D Deficiency is common. Trying to get the daily vitamin D doses using a vegan diet can sometimes be challenging because most vitamin D-rich foods belong to animal products, such as egg yolks, salmon, and shellfish, which are obviously not vegan-friendly.
According to a statistical report, around 42% of the US population is vitamin D deficient . The data suggest it is tricky for non-vegans to get the recommended amount of vitamin D daily. It is because of the lack of exposure to sunlight which is essential for the production of vitamin D, hence known as the sunshine vitamin .
In this article, you will learn the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency because it is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies worldwide . Moreover, we’ll look at the best vegan sources of vitamin D to deal with the situation.
What is Vitamin D and What Does it Do?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. It is entirely different from all other vitamins because of its one feature; the human body can synthesize it. Human skin contains precursor compounds that convert into inactive forms of vitamin D once exposed to sunlight for a suitable duration.
These inactive forms are released into the blood. After several chemical reactions, the kidneys and liver convert inactive vitamins into active forms. This is why people suffering from kidney or liver diseases also experience vitamin D deficiency .
Once activated, vitamin D acts on the intestines to promote the absorption of calcium and phosphates. Secondly, it works on the kidneys to prevent calcium excretion in the urine. These changes in the calcium and phosphate levels are essential for the proper functioning of bone and the immune system . Therefore, vitamin D deficiency leads to derangement of the functions of these tissues.
What are the Sources of Vitamin D?
As discussed before, one source of vitamin D is sunlight. Sunlight doesn’t contain this vitamin. But it helps convert precursor compounds into active vitamin D once it passes through the liver and kidney. People usually ask questions about whether sunlight is enough to get the recommended amount of this vitamin daily.
The vitamin D concentration produced by sunlight depends on factors such as skin exposure, age, color, and air pollution. In the modern world, people usually spend most of their time indoors, which makes it impossible to get enough vitamins with only sunlight exposure.
In that case, you should look for dietary sources to complete your daily intake of vitamin D. If you are vegan, this process also proves to be challenging as most vegan foods contain little to negligible amounts of vitamin D. Ultimately, most vegans go for supplements as their last choice. There is also conflicting evidence about whether you should use vitamin D supplements. Let me tell you a simple solution, if your blood has low vitamin D levels, you should take the supplements.
Otherwise, you should avoid taking supplements as intake of vitamin D more than the recommended amount leads to toxicity. In some cases, adding different choices of high-quality vegan foods can also help you overcome your deficiency. For this reason, I have mentioned the best vegan sources of vitamin D at the end of this article.
What Causes Vitamin D Deficiency?
You are only labeled as vitamin D deficient if your blood contains vitamin D less than 20 ng/mL. Moreover, those with blood levels of 21-29 ng/mL are known to suffer from vitamin D insufficiency . Therefore, it is not a true deficiency but can develop into a true one if not timely managed with dietary or lifestyle modifications.
People living at the equator are less likely to suffer from vitamin d deficiency as they get enough sunlight. However, people who wear sunscreen, have darker skin, and are overweight or obese can develop vitamin D deficiency even after enough sunlight .
Several other common causes of vitamin D deficiency are the following.
- Diet low in vitamin D
- Staying or working indoor
- Chronic kidney disease
- Chronic liver diseases such as cirrhosis
- Gut issues leading to poor absorption of vitamin D from the food
- Medications that affect the metabolism of vitamin D, such as statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs) and steroids
What are the Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency?
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency usually occur late after several months. Sometimes, people don’t even present with any symptoms at all. However, you should be aware of the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency. Because early diagnosis of the problem leads to effective treatment
Bone Damage and Pain
Vitamin D absorbs calcium and phosphate from the gut. These two minerals maintain the strength of the bone and make them resistant to fractures. Conversely, in vitamin D deficiency, bones become brittle due to poor calcium absorption . Therefore, the risk of bone fracture is significantly higher in these people.
Moreover, people with vitamin d deficiency also experience lower back pain. Although little is known about the cause of this symptom, experts mostly related pain to vertebral column deformity in people with a deficiency of this vitamin .
According to a study, around 70% of all cases of chronic pain are associated with vitamin D deficiency . According to scientific evidence, vitamin d receptors are present on nerves that create pain perception. In addition, these pain signaling pathways may be responsible for causing muscle pain .
Many foods and nutrients are known to affect the growth of hair follicles. One of that nutrients is vitamin D. Several studies have linked the increased incidence of hair loss with vitamin D deficiency . Although the association is not adequately understood, it has something to do with the increasing skin scarring in vitamin D deficiency.
Anxiety and Depression
Medical literature also related the deficiency of vitamins with increased anxiety disorders and depression. Moreover, anxiety patients receiving adequate amounts of vitamins show improvement in their symptoms, such as reduced anxiety and improved sleep quality .
According to a clinical study, there has been found a close association between low vitamin D levels and increased belly fat . However, these findings are much more common in the male population. However, more research is required to confirm whether obesity is the cause of vitamin D deficiency or caused by it.
Your immune system is the wall that prevents hundreds of pathogens from causing serious infections. However, as discussed before, vitamin D deficiency leads to the derangement of the immune system. Therefore, the risk of infections in these patients increases significantly. The statement is also supported by scientific evidence, as a daily intake of 4000 IU of vitamin D can help to prevent several respiratory tract infections .
Improper Wound Healing
Vitamin D plays an essential role in controlling inflammation and infections, which accelerates the process of wound healing. However, the recovery of a wound at the site of surgery or injury becomes impaired when your body is deficient in vitamin D. You must know that several factors are responsible for impaired wound healing; vitamin D deficiency alone is not enough to cause notable alterations.
Fatigue and Tiredness
Vitamin D deficiency leads to anxiety and depression, which are significant causes of improper sleep hygiene. Ultimately, lack of sleep results in continuous fatigue and tiredness, which can only be improved by correcting the deficiency of the vitamin.
Are Vegans at Increased Risk of Vitamin D Deficiency?
Most vegan foods don’t contain enough vitamin D. Vegans are more likely to develop the deficiency. Moreover, lactose intolerant people – allergic to milk and milk products – are also more likely to develop the deficiency. It is because animal foods such as milk and eggs are rich sources of vitamin D.
Most vegans think that vitamin B12 is the only vitamin they need supplementation. They further believe that their vegan foods and sunlight are enough to keep their body going. But with advancing age and limited sun exposure, it becomes difficult for the body to get enough vitamin D. Therefore, in such circumstances, you should look for fortified vegan sources of vitamin D to prevent its deficiency.
What are the Tests for Diagnosing Vitamin D Deficiency?
You can look for the symptoms mentioned earlier to know if you have vitamin D deficiency. However, some people usually don’t experience any symptoms at all. If you are one of those people, you would need to get some blood tests to confirm the diagnosis of your condition.
The most common test for this deficiency assesses our blood’s 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels. This is because vitamin D typically occurs in two forms; 1,25 hydroxy vitamin D and 25-hydroxy vitamin D. The latter stays for longer in our blood, making it a perfect compound to assess the presented nutritional deficiency (15).
How Much Vitamin D do you Need?
The recommended daily dietary intake of vitamin D depends on the person’s age. However, according to the National Institute of Health, 10 to 20 micrograms (400 to 800 IU) of vitamin D is sufficient to fulfill the dietary requirement of 97% of the human population .
The daily vitamin D requirement according to age groups is given below,
|Age Group||Daily requirement (IU)|
|Infants (0-12 months)||400 IU|
|Children (1 to 13 years)||600 IU|
|Teenagers (14-18 years)||600 IU|
|Adults (19-70 years)||600 IU|
|Older Adults (above 70 years)||800 IU|
Pregnant or breastfeeding women need an extra 600 IU of vitamin D to meet the nutritional requirements.
You can get this recommended amount by adding high-quality fortified vegan food sources. You can also use supplements. But be cautious about the tolerable upper limit of vitamin D is 4000 IU (100 micrograms). If you take more than this amount, your body can experience vitamin D toxicity, leading to irregular heartbeat, nausea, vomiting, and disorientation.
What are the Various Treatment Options?
Once diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency, it is better to consult a health professional. He will advise you on supplements and food sources to treat your condition.
Oral supplements have always been the go-to option for vitamin D deficiency among vegans. You also need to take magnesium supplements, which help absorb vitamin D from the gut .
You should know that oral supplements contain the inactive form of vitamin D, activated by certain chemical reactions in the liver and kidneys. Therefore, people with chronic kidney or liver disease cannot correct their vitamin D deficiency using oral supplements. In that case, they would need injections of the active form of vitamin D in their blood.
What are the Best Vegan Sources of Vitamin D?
Most vegan sources of vitamin D are fortified foods. Therefore, if you are following a natural vegan diet, it’s better to use supplements. Some of the best vegan sources of vitamin D are the following.
- Mushrooms are the only plant food rich in vitamin D. A 100 g serving of mushrooms is enough to provide you with 400 IU of vitamin D.
- Fortified soy products
- Fortified rice milk
- Fortified cereals
Although sunlight is a good source of this vitamin, too much exposure can lead to skin damage, sometimes resulting in an increased risk of skin cancer. Therefore, you should have all these vegan sources in your kitchen to prevent vitamin D deficiency.
Here are some Soy Recipes that can help to ensure that those who are vegetarians or thinking of becoming vegans can get Vitamin D:
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