Vitamin D is one of the most essential vitamins for bone development and immune health.
Recently, there have been emerging studies looking at the role vitamin D plays in COVID-19 patients. A small scale study found that out of 216 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, 82% of them had vitamin D deficiency versus 47% found in the control group – a population of similar age and geographic origin without COVID-19.
While results are inconclusive about the correlations between COVID-19 and vitamin D status, we want to share our knowledge of how genetics may play a role in your propensity to develop vitamin D deficiency, so that you can take charge of your health with the power of knowledge.
Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency
Severe vitamin D deficiency causes rickets. Rickets appears as incorrect growth patterns in children, deformities in joints, weakness in muscles and pain in bones. This level of deficiency is rare. In contrast to deficiencies in children, low vitamin D status in adults is less obvious.
Look out for these signs and symptoms that might indicate low vitamin D levels include:
- Getting sick or infected frequently
- Mood changes
- Muscle aches and cramps
- Bone pain and back pain
- Poor wound healing
- Low mineral bone density
What is Vitamin D?
Unique from all the other vitamins, vitamin D, is a steroid hormone produced from cholesterol when your skin is exposed to the sun, known as the sunshine vitamin.
Anything that blocks UVB radiation blunts your ability to produce vitamin D. That includes clothing, sunscreen, melanin (which is responsible for darker skin colour), living in a northern latitude, and staying indoors. Increasing age plays a role in the risks of low vitamin D levels as well.
In other words, your age, where you live, your skin colour, and how often you spend time outdoors with sun exposure impact your body’s vitamin D level.
Aside from these apparent reasons that affect vitamin D levels, genetic factors play a vital role in determining how well your body can metabolize, synthesize, and utilize vitamin D.
While you may be spending time under the sun or eating vitamin D rich foods, you may still need to supplement with vitamin D. Inherited genetic variations can impact how you synthesize the sunshine vitamin.
Let’s explore four genetic reasons why you may have low vitamin D.
1) How well are you converting vitamin D into its active form?
Your liver and kidneys are responsible for converting vitamin D into its active form. Vitamin D needs to be converted into its active form for the body to use. Specific enzymes, CYP2R1 AND CYP27B1, are essential for this conversion. Some may have genetic variations in these enzymes’ production, resulting in lower vitamin D levels and increasing the risk of vitamin D insufficiency.
2) How well do you synthesize cholesterol for vitamin D production?
You may have a genetic variation in the gene DHCR7 that affects your ability to adapt to areas further from the equator, in other words, areas with less sunlight. This genetic variation governs the availability of a cholesterol precursor, ultimately affecting the body’s production of vitamin D3. Each risk allele “A” is associated with two nmol/L less circulating vitamin D.
3) How well does your body distribute vitamin D?
A protein called globulin protein (GC) binds to vitamin D to distribute it around your body. We’ve found that genetic variations in the GC gene are associated with differences in circulating vitamin D levels. These genetic variations have been linked to differences in vitamin D status across varying ethnic groups. It is also found to be linked to having a more drastic response to vitamin D supplementation.
4) How well does your body regulate vitamin D in the body?
We often see variations in the NADSYN1 gene is linked to an increased risk of vitamin D insufficiency and an abnormal amount of lipids in the blood. NADSYN1 plays a crucial role in the regulation of vitamin D.
What You Can Do To Increase Your Vitamin D Levels
While you may have genetic variations that make it harder for you to synthesize, convert, and distribute vitamin D, there are a few things you can do right away to get your vitamin D levels in check.
If you suspect to have low vitamin D levels, speak with your healthcare provider to test your levels. Be proactive in supporting your immunity, especially at this time when immune health is more important than ever.
1) Make sure to get enough sun exposure. At least 15 minutes a day.
2) Increase your dietary intake of vitamin D rich foods like egg yolk, salmon, sardines and mackerel.
3) Consider taking vitamin D supplements. The most effective vitamin D supplements are suspended in fat. Look for liquid vitamin D supplements that are suspended in coconut oil or sunflower oil. It is recommended that you consume at least 600 IU and stay below 4000 IU of vitamin D per day.
Although current studies are inconclusive as to the role vitamin D plays in COVID-19 patients. Recent small-scale studies have found that a large majority of hospitalized COVID-19 patients have a vitamin D deficiency.
With this information at hand, maintaining adequate vitamin D levels is essential to supporting a robust immune system. Understanding your genetic susceptibility to vitamin D deficiency is just as essential.
There are steps you can take immediately to improve your vitamin D levels. However, if you suspect that you may be vitamin D deficient, talk to your healthcare provider to get tested.
Take charge of your immune health. Get your DNA tested to identify strengths and weaknesses in your genes so that you can take precautionary steps towards vital immune health.