Vitamin D deficiency affects an estimated 76% of African Americans and around 44% of Hispanics. It is a common issue in darker skin tones, mostly due to melanin’s natural way of protecting itself from UV radiation. And, sadly, the percentage will only rise.  

Doctor Leslie Ray Matthews, a diplomat of the American Board of Surgery, has focused and devoted much of his longstanding career to the study of vitamin D deficiency in surgical intensive care patients. He has also investigated the positive effect of vitamin D therapy in critically ill patients.

EBONY spoke with Dr. Matthews to learn more about the issue as it affects Black and Brown people, as well as get tips on how to spot and treat it on our own.

EBONY: Why is vitamin D deficiency so prevalent in Black and Brown people? 

Dr. Matthews: Vitamin D3 deficiency is so prevalent in Black and Brown people because of the extra melanin in our skin. The extra melanin protects us from the sun's harmful effects, such as skin cancer and sunburn. Due to darker skin blocking the harmful effects of UV radiation, it can also prevent the body from naturally producing vitamin D. Furthermore, using sunscreen before absorbing at least 20 minutes of sun can also prevent you from consuming the proper amount of vitamin D.

What are the 5 key signs for spotting it? 

Signs and symptoms of vitamin D3 deficiency are brain fog, lack of focus and concentration, fatigue, frequent upper respiratory tract infections, muscle and joint pain, insomnia, hair loss and frequently fractured bones. You should be tested for vitamin intake annually with your physical.

What suggestions do you have to increase our vitamin D intake? 

You can attain proper amounts of vitamin D through your diet, supplements, or through your skin. It’s recommended to get 20 minutes of sun exposure during the summer months. Also, taking supplements such as pills, capsules, liquid, soft gels, or the sublingual form can increase vitamin D3 intake. 

Additional vitamin D facts to know
  • Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium.
  • Half of the world's population is vitamin D3 deficient, which is a total of 4 billion people.
  • Vitamin D is both a nutrient and hormone used to boost our immune system. This hormone contributes to reducing the risk of all types of viruses, diseases, bacteria, and fungal infections sweeping around the world.
  • Vitamin D can help manage PTSD, depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder by lessening the symptoms connected to these psychiatric disorders.
  • Vitamin D3 deficiency during pregnancy is associated with increased maternal-fetal mortality rate, preeclampsia, upper respiratory tract infections, postpartum depression, fatigue, mental retardation, schizophrenia, and diabetes in newborn babies.