How to Treat a Vitamin D Deficiency

If you’re here, chances are you think you might have a Vitamin D deficiency. This type of deficiency is very common in North America, and gets especially bad in the winter. Our body produces Vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure, so it’s no surprise that so many people don’t get enough of it.

I recently found out that I have a bad Vitamin D deficiency – and have been proactive about treating it. I wanted to share with you some of my tips on how to treat this common, but dangerous problem.

Make sure you are actually deficient in Vitamin D

Many people just assume they are lacking Vitamin D because they have the symptoms: Seasonal Affective Disorder, fatigue, immunity problems, etc. But you should always get a blood test to make sure Vitamin D is, in fact, the culprit. There are other disorders that can have similar symptoms.

If you misdiagnose yourself, you can do more harm than good. There is such thing as too much Vitamin D, so before you increase your intake, you should make sure you actually have a deficiency.

Your primary care physician can give you a prescription for the blood test. Just let her know you would like to check your Vitamin D levels. Your insurance will typically cover the test. It’s a very quick test that involves a regular blood draw, and you’ll have your results in a few days.

Determine how deficient you are

So you got your results and your suspicions have been confirmed: you have a Vitamin D deficiency. What now?

There are different levels of deficiency. Your doctor will be able to explain it to you, but generally your results will be provided in the form of units (nmol/L) or nanograms (ng/mL):

Vitamin D levels
Vitamin D levels (National Institute of Health)

If you have less than 30 nmol/L, you are officially deficient. Mine was 18 nmol/L and that’s considered pretty bad! Your results might be between 30 nmol/L and 50 nmol/L which is not as bad, but still insufficient. My doctor told me I should aim for 70-100 nmol/L.

Eat Vitamin D-rich foods

Vitamin D deficiency - eat more VItamin D- rich foods like salmon

Now that you have determined that you have a Vitamin D deficiency, a good place to start is to increase your intake of Vitamin D-rich foods. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of foods that naturally contain enough Vitamin D, but you should make sure to include these in your diet as much as possible:

  • fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel
  • fish liver oil
  • beef liver
  • natural cheese
  • egg yolks

Additionally, some processed foods are fortified with Vitamin D. Usually, those foods are not allowed on the paleo diet, but I will list them anyway. Those foods will typically advertise right on the package that they contain Vitamin D. Some of these products include:

  • milk
  • margarine
  • cereal

Eating foods rich in Vitamin D can be enough to reach healthy levels of Vitamin D if your deficiency is not too severe. But if your Vitamin D levels are low, you’ll need more than just food!

How to choose the right Vitamin D supplement

Vitamin D supplements for Vitamin D defficiency. Vitamin D2 vs Vitamin D3

If you’re severely deficient, your doctor will probably prescribe you a Vitamin D supplement. In that case I suggest taking it and then getting tested in a few months to see if the supplement helped.

Vitamin D2 vs D3

Vitamin D supplements usually come in two forms: D2 and D3. You might see some Vitamin D2 vs Vitamin D3 comparisons online. Some people think D3 is far superior, and some even go as far as saying that D2 is harmful for you. 

But as always, I recommend you do your own research and speak to your doctor about it. My conclusion is that Vitamin D3 is metabolized much more efficiently by your body, but that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with D2. I didn’t find any proof that D2 is harmful.

Your doctor will most likely prescribe D2, because it’s widely available and comes in larger doses (which might be necessary for your level of deficiency). The dose that I had to take in the beginning was so high that there are no D3 supplements available with the same dosage!

But if you can buy over-the-counter D3 to replace your D2 prescription – I say: go for it! Just make sure it’s comparable in terms of dosage. 

Your doctor should test you in about 4 months to see if the supplements helped. This usually works for most people and they see significant improvement which allows them to reduce the dosage of the prescription to a level that maintains healthy Vitamin D levels.

Expose yourself to sunlight

As little as 15-30 minutes a day in the sun is enough to increase Vitamin D levels

Last but not least, you have to expose yourself to sunlight (or artificial sunlight) in order to raise your Vitamin D levels naturally. After all, that’s what it takes for our bodies to produce it naturally.

Our modern lifestyles require many of us to spend a lot of time indoors, missing out on all the sunshine that we need for our health. If possible, make an effort to spend at least 30 minutes a day in direct sunlight, preferably between 10 am and 1 pm. 

If that’s not doable, consider getting a sunlamp! These neat lamps come in all shapes and sizes allowing you to use them on those days when you don’t make it outside (it happens) 😉

  Vitamin D deficiency can lead to problems, but the good news is that there are many ways to treat it! I have been eating more Vitamin D-rich foods, spending more time outside, and taking my Vitamin D supplements, and I have seen a huge improvement. I don’t even feel the effects of the “winter blues” this year!

Do you have any tips for Vitamin D deficiency? Questions about managing a deficiency? Let me know in the comments below!

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