If you follow our articles on liver, you already know that it can be caused by various factors – obesity, bad diet, cholesterol, etc. What you may not know is that vitamin D deficiency can play a role, too; and liver is not the only organ that suffers!
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An extremely common deficiency
According to statistics, up to 40% of Americans suffer from a lack of vitamin D, and the figure rises to 80% in African-American populations. While our body can synthesize vitamin D, it requires sunlight to do that. You do not have to spend your days on the beach, of course: a few hours a week are enough. Unfortunately, many sedentary office workers don’t get much sunshine, especially in northern latitudes. While vitamin D is contained in some foods, you would need to eat a lot of them to get the recommended daily value of 600 IU (international units).
Why it’s so dangerous
Vitamin D deficiency is rarely diagnosed, since it has almost no symptoms apart from constant fatigue and occasional muscle pain. And yet, it silently causes great damage to the body. The main function of vitamin D is to help us absorb calcium, but it performs many other functions, as well.
Liver – recent research shows that low levels of vitamin D can either be a risk factor for fatty liver or exacerbate it (see this study, for example). Vitamin D plays an important role in the immune system, and its lack can make any inflammation worse (inflammation being on the NAFLD symptoms). On the other hand, the reverse is possible: perhaps people with fatty liver cannot metabolize and absorb vitamin D properly (see here for an alternative hypothesis).
Bones – the cellular material of our bones is replaced and rebuilt constantly using calcium from food. However, proper absorption of calcium is impossible without vitamin D. Children with a severe deficiency can develop rickets (a disease characterized by curved bones), while adults suffer from low bone density and risk of injuries.
Immune system – apart from making liver inflammation worse, vitamin D deficiency can make you get sick very often, especially with flu and common cold. Inflammation and swelling will last longer, and any cuts or wounds will heal very slowly.
Fatigue – while constantly feeling tired can be a symptom of many disorders, such as Lyme disease or the mysterious chronic fatigue syndrome, a lot of cases can be due to low levels of vitamin D (here’s one study).
Better prevent than treat
If you suspect you lack vitamin D, the best thing is to do a blood test. Your doctor will prescribe you supplements (usually 1000-2000 IU per day). Many supplements can be taken without a prescription, since it is very difficult to overdose on vitamin D.
Make sure you spend time in the sun – go hiking or skiing, or simply spend time in your garden. Applying sunscreen blocks part of the UV rays, but vitamin D is still produced, albeit at a slower rate.
Eat foods containing vitamin D – particularly salmon, tuna, and pickled herring; many dairy products and breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin D (about 100 IU per serving).
Certainly, the lack of vitamin D is not the most dangerous of vitamin deficiencies, and it is not too easy to avoid. However, recognizing that you have it will allow you to solve a lot of health issues – from unexplainable fatigue to fatty liver.