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5 Weird Health Risks of Low Vitamin D Levels

Unless it’s summer in February where you live (a girl can dream!), you’re probably not getting enough vitamin D. On average, 42 percent of the U.S. population is deficient in the vitamin, according to a study in the journal Nutrition Research. And, while you probably know the sunshine vitamin best for its effects on bone health (it helps carry calcium where it needs to go) and mood, there’s a lot more this crucial nutrient can do to safeguard your wellbeing. Here are five surprising downfalls that can occur when your vitamin D levels dip too low. (And, since we know you'll resolve to supplement during the winter months after reading, check out How to Pick the Best Vitamin D Supplement.)

You’re More Likely to Develop Diabetes
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People who have low levels of vitamin D are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, according to a brand new study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Surprisingly, researchers found that vitamin D was even more closely associated with an increased risk of diabetes than obesity was. The research is too new for researchers to speculate why the association exists, though they believe that vitamin D may play a role in how the body metabolizes glucose.

You’re Less Fit Than You Could Be
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Low vitamin D levels may affect muscle function and fitness levels, according to an analysis published in Health & Fitness Journal. The good news is that supplementation can help—but it only benefited athletes whose levels were below ideal to start. The perks they saw from boosting their levels, though, included greater strength and vertical jump height in ballet dancers, improved sprint times and better vertical jumps in pro athletes, and even reduced levels of inflammation, pain, and weakness; improved exercise capacity; and aided better protein synthesis within the muscles. (Don't forget about these other 7 Nutrients That Help Increase Muscle Tone.)

You’re More Likely to Get Respiratory Infections
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A meta-analysis of almost 40 studies by British researchers found that low vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of both upper and lower respiratory tract infections. People with low D are actually two and a half times more likely to develop pneumonia than those with high levels, according to a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Without vitamin D, your immune system is weaker, making you more susceptible to viruses.

You’re More Likely to Develop Dementia
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Not getting enough of the sunshine vitamin may double your risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s, according to a study in Neurology. British researchers found that people with low levels of vitamin D had a 53 percent higher risk of developing dementia, and those with a severe deficiency had a 125 percent increased risk compared to participants with normal levels of vitamin D. Experts aren’t sure exactly how the two are connected, but suspect that vitamin D might help clear plaques in the brain linked to dementia. (At risk? Fill your plate with The 11 Best Foods for Your Brain.)

You’re More Likely to Die Prematurely
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People with low levels of vitamin D were more likely to die, specifically 35 percent more likely from heart diseases, and 14 percent more likely from cancer, according to a study in BMJ. The good news? Supplements can help. Participants who stocked up on D3—the type found in fish and dairy products and produced in response to sunlight—were 11 percent less likely to die from all causes compared to adults who did not. How can it help keep you alive? Since it is the sunshine vitamin, healthy levels likely mean you have healthy habits, whether it be staying active outside or even thinking about your health enough to supplement. Biologically, vitamin D activates a range of responses, including boosting your immune system and encouraging cellular growth. Plus there are D receptors throughout your DNA, so the vitamin helps regulate about three percent of the human genome which can have an affect on disease disk, researchers add. (Are You Taking Your Vitamin D Supplement Wrong?)

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