Low vitamin D levels have been associated with a variety of health issues from depression to dementia and from breast cancer to heart disease. Vitamin D deficiencies can also result in bone diseases such as rickets in children and osteomalacia and osteoporosis in adults.
But you may not be aware that if you’re not getting enough vitamin D, you may also suffer from dizziness, headaches, and yes, low energy and fatigue.
Especially this time of year, when the days are shorter, the sun sleeps longer, and we’re bracing ourselves for the winter doldrums, it’s not unusual for us to feel fatigued.
Here are some reasons why we may experience fatigue:
- Lack of sleep—This is probably the most obvious reason. Studies on the benefits of quality sleep, the need for sufficient sleep, and the risks of not getting enough sleep are abundant. Whether you are not addressing a common sleep disorder like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or insomnia, or if it’s just that you are determined to watch old movies till dawn, disrupted sleep or not enough sleep will leave you fatigued.
- Depression or mood disorders—If you’re sad, you may find that all you want to do is stay in bed, and in an ironic twist, if you’re treating your depression, certain antidepressant medications may actually feed your fatigue. And if you’re grieving or experiencing prolonged emotional stress, you will be prone to feeling listless and exhausted.
- Poor diet—When you choose “empty calorie” foods—those that are high in calories but low in nutritive value—you’re choosing foods that will likely wear you down. For balanced energy, rather than peaks and crashes, watch your sugar and carb intake, avoid trans- and moderate saturated fatty foods, and reduce your processed food intake.
- Illness or infection—Anemia, cancer, obesity, and kidney disease are just a few of the hundreds of diseases and conditions that may leave you zapped of energy and facing fatigue fog.
- Lack of physical exercise—It’s a vicious cycle. When you’re tired, the last thing you may want to do is get on your exercise bike or run a mile. But the fact is inactivity leads to low energy and muscle weakness.
- Low levels of vitamin D—This lesser-known (and often overlooked) reason why you may be fatigued is fortunately also one of the easier problems to identify and then solve.
Let’s talk about that because vitamin D deficiencies and insufficiencies are more common than you might realize. According to a recently published article, vitamin D deficiency is a global public health issue, with about 1 billion people worldwide falling into that category, while 50% of the population have vitamin D insufficiency. In the U.S. alone, 35% of adults are vitamin D deficient.
The good news is this: it’s relatively easy to get your vitamin D levels tested—your doctor can order this through a blood test or here at OmegaQuant we offer an at-home test for vitamin D levels. And once you know your vitamin D status, it’s generally just as easy to increase your levels.
Once you know your vitamin D status, the goal is to get, and keep, you in what we refer to as the “Goldilocks Level” (not too little, not too much, but just right). For vitamin D, we suggest a range from 30 ng/mL to 50 ng/mL. (Below 20 ng/mL is considered deficient.)
Does Vitamin D Deficiency Make You Tired?
Yes, if you’re not getting enough vitamin D you will likely experience low energy and feel tired.
An observational study, this one in 200 female nurses, found that only 9.5% of them had normal vitamin D levels, while 89% were found to have vitamin D deficiency. (The remaining 1.5% had vitamin D toxicity levels.) The study results found a significant relationship between vitamin D levels and fatigue scores, leading the study authors to conclude that “high prevalence of fatigue among nurses (in the study) could be attributed to a vitamin D deficiency.”
Even children with vitamin D deficiency are prone to sleep issues, with this study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine concluding that this deficiency was linked to decreased sleep duration, poorer sleep efficiency, and even delayed bedtimes. The authors suggested that future studies in children should examine whether vitamin D deficiency leads to sleep disturbance or whether it is the other way around.
This article from Healthline notes that several studies demonstrated the positive impact that raising vitamin D levels can have on reducing fatigue.
For instance, in this study published in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences, 77% of the 174 adults who presented with fatigue were also found to have low vitamin D levels. After receiving vitamin D treatment for 5 weeks, their fatigue symptoms improved significantly as indicated by the comparison results of their pre- and post-treatment fatigue assessment questionnaires.
Can Vitamin D Deficiency Cause Dizziness?
It’s certainly possible.
Lack of sleep can make you feel lightheaded or dizzy. Further, dizziness and balance issues are often symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Because we know that vitamin D impacts so many of our bodies’ functions—including our circadian rhythms which in turn help regulate sleep—it makes sense that low vitamin D levels can lead to dizziness and related issues.
In addition, a number of studies have looked at the association of vitamin D on BPPV, the most common form of peripheral vertigo.
For example, one study published in Neurology set out to assess the effect of vitamin D and calcium supplementation in preventing recurrences of peripheral vertigo.
The multi-center, parallel, randomized control trial assigned patients to either the intervention group or the observation group. Those 348 patients in the intervention group with vitamin D levels under 20 ng/mL at baseline were “intended to treat” with vitamin D 400 IU and 500 mg of calcium carbonate twice daily for one year, while the remaining 445 patients in the same group with serum vitamin D levels equal or greater to 20 ng/mL were not asked to take supplements.
The observation group did not get their vitamin D levels tested and did not receive supplements.
The proportion of patients with recurrence of vertigo was lower in the intervention group participants (especially in those from “intention-to-treat” analysis) and also was lower compared to the observation group. Therefore, the researchers advised that supplementation of vitamin D and calcium may be considered in patients with frequent attacks of BPPV, especially when serum vitamin D is subnormal.
Another trial noted the link between BPPV and vitamin D deficiency and the researchers were interested in assessing the influence of vitamin D supplementation on the intensity of BPPV. The treated group and non-treated group were considered vitamin D deficient, with the control group at sufficient vitamin D levels.
After two months of vitamin D supplementation plus rehabilitation therapy, for the treated group and the non-treated group (those getting only rehabilitation therapy), the intensity of BPPV decreased significantly as compared with control; but at endpoint, the intensity of BPPV aggravated and regressed to the baseline value in the vitamin D deficient non-treated group whereas, in the vitamin D treated group, improvement of BPPV remained stable and unchanged over the study period.
This article reported that another study found that vitamin D levels were significantly lower in those with BPPV in comparison to the healthy participants. As importantly, the researchers found that vitamin D levels were significantly lower in the participants with recurrent BPPV compared to the participants with non-recurrent BPPV.
Can Vitamin D Deficiency Cause Headaches?
Research is finding an association, if not yet a cause and effect, between low levels of vitamin D and an increased risk for headaches.
A piece in Health.com reported on a study out of Finland in middle-aged men that found those with low-serum vitamin D were at greater risk for frequent headaches in comparison to those with higher vitamin D levels.
In fact, the article reported that “men with the lowest levels of vitamin D were more than twice as likely to have headaches at least once a week in comparison to those with the highest levels.”
Only 9.6% of the study population reported chronic headaches; however, on average, those had lower levels of vitamin D (38.3 nmol/L) compared to those without headaches (43.9 nmol/L). (As an aside, for math geeks who would like to better understand how these numbers compare with the “Goldilocks” levels mentioned earlier in this blog, please note: according to the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, serum concentrations of 25(OH)D are reported in both nanomoles per liter (nmol/L) and nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). One nmol/L is equal to 0.4 ng/mL, and 1 ng/mL is equal to 2.5 nmol/L.)
The study itself references numerous other studies with beneficial associations between vitamin D and headaches, although the study authors point out further research is needed.
This article from verywellhealth.com details three studies on vitamin D deficiency and the relation to headaches. The first study says the prevalence of migraine and tension headaches increased the closer to the North and South Poles and farther away from the equator—with the sun being the presumed differentiator.
In the second study mentioned, those with chronic tension headaches were significantly more likely to be vitamin D deficient, while the third study found that 77% of the 157 migraine sufferers in the study population had vitamin D deficiency, particularly during spring and winter.