Mediterranean Diet 101

Vitamin D Deficiency Causes in Women, Men and Children

salmon filletHypovitaminosis D can be caused by several factors:

- inadequate nutritional intake of vitamin D

- inadequate sunlight exposure (UVB rays)

- disorders that limit vitamin D absorption

- conditions that impair the conversion of vitamin D into active vitamin D forms including certain liver, kidney, and hereditary disorders.

These factors, combined or not, can cause vitamin D blood levels to drop significantly. Vitamin D deficiency symptoms are most often impaired bone mineralization that leads to bone softening diseases including osteomalacia and osteoporosis in adults and rickets in children.

Inadequate Nutritional Intake of Vitamin D

Nutritional habits play important role in causing vitamin D deficiency. Vegans avoid consuming any kind of animal foods, some people don't eat fish due to allergies or because they simply don't like fish and similar foods.

Since various fish species are vitamin D rich foods, having fish on menu regularly is good precaution in fighting vitamin D deficiency.

On the other hand, some mushrooms dried on sun (UVB rays) can have significant amounts of vitamin D.

Inadequate Sunlight Exposure

Sunscreen absorbs ultraviolet light and prevents it from reaching the skin - sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 8 (based on the UVB spectrum) can decrease vitamin D production by 95 percent, while sunscreen with an SPF of 15 can reduce vitamin D skin production by 98 percent.

When the UV index is greater than 3, which occurs daily within the tropics year long and daily during the spring and summer seasons in temperate regions, adequate amounts of vitamin D3 can be made in the skin after only ten to fifteen minutes of sun exposure at least two to three times per week to the face, arms, hands or back without sunscreen. With longer exposure to UVB rays, an equilibrium is achieved in the skin, and the vitamin simply degrades as fast as it is generated.

Vitamin D Deficiency In Women

Women are more susceptible to vitamin D deficiency compared to men - they are especially susceptible to low vitamin D levels during pregnancy and lactation period and during and after menopause.

Vitamin D deficiency can cause many health problems - for more information about these problems feel free to check Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms article.

It is important to prevent vitamin D deficiency before it occurs - it can be long term problem with health issues showing long after deficiency occurs. Best 'defense' against vitamin D are eating healthy vitamin D rich foods and spending enough time outside during sunny days. Vitamin D supplements are also very important for both vitamin D deficiency prevention and for fighting ongoing vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D requirements for women change during certain period of life:

- vitamin D requirement during pregnancy and lactation period are increased. Vitamin D RDA during pregnancy and lactation is generally the same - around 600 IU of vitamin D per day, but many doctors and scientists this recommendation consider insufficient. Anyway, to be sure about it, ask your doctor to check vitamin D blood levels - better safe than sorry.

- vitamin D requirements during and after menopause are even higher when compared with requirements during pregnancy and lactation period - 800 IU of vitamin D is RDA for 50+ years old (young!) women. Again, this value is disputed with many doctors and researchers and higher doses are often recommended - after vitamin D blood levels checks, of course.

For many women who have problems consuming vitamin D rich foods, who live in areas that lack clear sunny days etc, vitamin D supplementation with supplements that are relatively low in vitamin D (less than 1000IU per pill) is often recommended prevention of vitamin D deficiency in the long run.

Vitamin D Deficiency in Pregnancy

pregnancyImportance of vitamin D levels, dosages, deficiency and prevention of deficiency comes to it's heights during pregnancy.

Why? Well, first of all, we have two lives at stake here: mom and unborn baby - or if you got lucky, unborn babies :o).

Seriously - problem with importance of vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy is huge - scientists and researchers don't agree about proper levels of vitamin D in blood during pregnancy. Some claim that 50 ng/mL is minimum for healthy development of baby and for protection of mum's health not only during pregnancy, but also during lactation and, according to some researchers, in the long run even during and after menopause. But most researches show that vitamin D blood levels above 40 ng/ml are rare, to say the least. In most studies, vitamin D blood levels of 15 ng/mL or less are found in at least 40-50% percent of tested pregnant women. Often, it was found that supplementation with 400-600 IU of vitamin D per day had very little effects on vitamin D blood levels, showing huge deficiency in the body.

How important are these researches and how accurate are they? Vitamin D deficiency can cause health problem for both mom and baby - sometimes these problems can NOT be resolved through supplementation AFTER the birth.

Avoiding Vitamin D Deficiency During the Pregnancy

Better safe than sorry - always have this in mind when dealing with your health or health in general. General rule of thumb for pregnant women, those trying to conceive and lactating women is to consume 600 IU of vitamin D per day. These amounts are easily achievable by adopting healthy life habits - spending more time outside with at least hands and head exposed to the sun (be careful about this - read Vitamin D and the Sun Exposure article) and consuming fish once a day. Note about fish - due to global pollution, some predatory species are really high in mercury, cadmium and similar heavy metals and pollutants, so avoid them. Sardines, some salmon species and similar fishes are low in mercury and rich in vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and other micro and macronutrients.

Supplementation of vitamin D is recommended by many doctors these days - usually these supplements are in the form of multivitamin and multimineral pills with vitamin D amounts between 400 - 1000 IU per pill. These supplements should be taken only after recommendation by your doctor and they are good measure in preventing vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy, especially if you combine them with vitamin D rich foods and some light outside activity.

Possible Health Problems and Complication Due to Vitamin D Deficiency During the Pregnancy

Research data behind these conclusions show statistical probability that some problem or complication may occur - nothing more and nothing less.

The rate of Caesarean section in women in America has increased from 5% in 1970 to 30% today. Some researches showed that women with vitamin D blood levels below 15 ng/mL were four times more likely to have a Cesarean section than were women with higher levels. Among the few women with levels above 50 ng/mL (which are really rare), the Caesarean section rate was the same as it was in 1970, about 5%. Of course, there are other factors, not related to vitamin D levels, that influence Caesarean section rate.

Gestational diabetes during pregnancy affects about 5% of all pregnant women. It is health problem that is increasing in incidence with adverse effects on the baby. Some researches have found that women with low vitamin D levels were almost 3 times more likely to develop diabetes during pregnancy. Again, these are 'just' numbers, but when it comes to health of unborn baby and future mum, than there are no precautions too many...

There are other health problems related to low levels of vitamin D like: bacterial vaginal infections, pre-eclampsia, muscle fatigue, bone tissue demineralization etc. Also, baby development can be hamper and this can lead to many problems in the long run: bone development and calcification, development of brain and other organs, heart failures etc.

As said before, there are many ongoing, often conflicting, researches about effects and actual needs of vitamin D during pregnancy. Some scientists claim than instead of 600-800 IU of vitamin per day, pregnant women need up to or even more than 6000 IU of vitamin D per day.

Only thorough testing of blood levels of every individual pregnant woman (or any other person) under supervision of her doctor, can show how much that individual actually needs IU of vitamin D per day - after all, we are all unique ...

Anyway, 600-800 IU per day of vitamin D is still 'best bet' for preventing vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy.

Vitamin D Deficiency in Men

As any other part of population, men are also susceptible to vitamin D deficiency - less than women, but nonetheless something to consider, especially if you:

- spend only limited amount of time outside, exposed to the sun light

- if you have darker skin - darker skin have more pigments that prevent UVB rays from helping in vitamin D production

- if your body fat percentage (bf%) is relatively high, higher than 15-20%, since fat cells absorb vitamin D from blood more than other cells (ok, this is just a simplification of what is actually going on in our bodies, but it is important to note that overweight people can have more problems with vitamin D deficiency than lean people)

- if you have any digestive problems that can prevent proper vitamin D absorption, than you should consider checking your vitamin D blood levels before you notice any vitamin D deficiency related problem

- if you have kidney or liver problems, conversion from one form of vitamin D to another can be slowed down or even stopped

- if you are taking medications that can prevent vitamin D absorption

- if you are avoiding eating fish

- if you are taking dieting pills that act as fat blockers

Of course, these rules apply to both men and women.

Prevention of vitamin D deficiency is much more safer thing to do than treating severe vitamin D deficiency. To avoid vitamin D deficiency, it is recommended to:

- spend some time outside - 2-3 times per week, 15 - 20 minutes with exposed hands, face and neck is generally considered enough for natural vitamin D production. Of course, you are supposed not to have any sun block cream and factor of UV rays strength of 3 is more than enough. Spending more time outside and enjoying sport of some kind (walking, running, cycling, swimming etc) will be very beneficial for everybody's health - physical exercise will burn more calories and will help reduce body fat and promote higher vitamin D blood levels by producing more vitamin D in the skin (and kidneys and liver) and by reducing fatty cells.

- eat more foods rich in vitamin D - if you are not allergic to fish, then really, there is no reason to enjoy few healthy fish meals per week. If possible, one fish meal per day provides human body with plenty of not only vitamin D, but also with plenty of healthy protein, omega-3 essential fatty acids, some vitamin E and other micronutrients. Note: predatory species tend to have higher levels of mercury and other pollutants, so choose fish species that are lower in sea's food chain like sardines.

- if you are unable to spend more time outside during the day and/or you don't eat fish, than vitamin D supplements can help - just to be sure, consult your doctor about taking any kind of supplement, not only vitamin D supplement. Anyway, vitamin D supplements with lower amounts of vitamin D (800-1000 IU or less) are good measure in preventing vitamin D deficiency in both men and women.

Vitamin D Deficiency in Children

kid in the poolVitamin D deficiency in children (of all ages) is very serious health problem that can have lasting consequences.

Fortunately, vitamin D deficiency is easily prevented - and it should be prevented.

Newborn babies are usually not getting enough vitamin D from mom's milk and if you consider that newborns are not going outside and get their skin exposed to sun rays (and they shouldn't - ask your doctor why, when, how much and how often should your baby be outside and be exposed to sunlight) then vitamin D deficiency in babies can be prevented by adding vitamin D in the form of vitamin D droplets in bottled baby foods or as recommended by baby's doctor. Also, increasing mom's vitamin D consumption can be beneficial in increasing vitamin D levels in mom's milk. Whatever you do - consult your doctor before taking or giving any supplements.

As baby grows, he/she should spend more and more time outside during the sunny weather - this will promote natural vitamin D production due to skin sun exposure. Of course, vitamin D natural production depends on many things like amount of exposed skin, skin pigmentation, sun strength etc.

Note: Sunburns are easily avoided - limit the time spent on direct sunlight, use hat or any similar head protection and good sun screens with high protection factor. Of course, be sure that 'some' sunlight do reach the skin of the child. During summer, avoid getting out between 10:00 and 16:00 and be sure to check UV radiation factor for your area.

Consuming vitamin D rich foods play vital part in preventing vitamin D deficiency in children. Often, children don't want to eat what parents want, but they eat what they want.

milkMilk fortified with vitamin D is recommended source of vitamin D for small children - glass or two of such milk will provide more than enough vitamin D for every kid. Just to be sure, read the labels of such foods and if you can't find label amount of micro and macronutrients - don't buy it.

Fortified milk can be consumed as regular milk - alone, with cocoa of some kind, cereals etc.

There are other food sources that should be consumed by every child, not only as natural vitamin D source, but as source of other nutrients - fish and whole organic or omega-3 eggs are good starting point. For more about vitamin D in foods, feel free to check Vitamin D Rich Foods article.

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