Bone health: are you vitamin D deficient?

Vitamin D is essential to bone health, playing an important role in protecting bone tissue and also helping to absorb calcium. During childhood, you need vitamin D to build strong bones and in adulthood, you need it to maintain them.

Who is at risk of a vitamin D deficiency?

Your risk of becoming deficient in vitamin D increases with age, especially in women. In fact, 57 percent of women over the age of 75 years in Australia have been found to be deficient. This is particularly important, as vitamin D deficiency is a key risk factor for falls and fractures in the elderly.1 Other risk factors include those with little to no sun exposure, such as hospitalized people, those in aged care or housebound individuals, women who are pregnant and those who wear clothes that cover the whole body for religious or cultural reasons.2

How do we get vitamin D?

Our body gets vitamin D in three ways: from sunlight, the food we eat and from dietary supplements. Your skin produces vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) rays in sunlight. However, due to health concerns surrounding sun exposure, such as premature ageing and skin cancer, many people avoid sunlight by staying indoors or wearing protective clothing. Increased awareness of the risks of skin cancer from sun exposure means that despite our largely sunny climate, vitamin D deficiency has become a significant public health concern, with an estimated 31% of adults in Australia having inadequate vitamin D levels.4

A decrease in sun exposure has led to a need for more vitamin D to be taken in through our diet. This can be difficult to achieve, as there are only small amounts of vitamin D in some foods, for example fish and eggs. Certain food products, such as some brands of milk and margarine have added vitamin D. However, most people only get around five to ten percent of their daily vitamin D from foods. If you are found to have low levels of vitamin D, a supplement in the form of drops, capsules or tablets may be recommended by your doctor. These are a convenient, cost effective way to ensure you are getting enough vitamin D every day.2

How can I find out if I am deficient?

If you are concerned that you may be vitamin D deficient in vitamin D, speak to your doctor. They will be able to perform a simple blood test to check your vitamin D status and assess your risk factors. If you are found to be sufficient, they may prescribe a vitamin D supplement to help increase your vitamin D levels.2