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Vitamin D Deficiency: Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

| Reviewed By Dr. Karthika Thirugnanam

Vitamin D is one of the essential nutrients that our body requires. Lack of adequate vitamin D in the body can lead to several health problems. The vitamin can help strengthen bones, reduce the risk of heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Some studies have also pointed out that the deficiency of Vitamin D increases can increase the risk of developing dementia. It also plays a major role in managing respiratory tract infections and autoimmune diseases among others [1] .

It is a fat-soluble vitamin that our body can make from sunlight or can be ingested via food or supplements. A very small amount comes from a few foods you eat, such as some fish, fish liver oils, egg yolks and fortified dairy, cereals and grain products.

Vitamin D deficiency symptoms can appear in the form of any disease involving heart, bones and many organs. A simple blood test can determine whether or not you have a vitamin D deficiency. Your doctor can advise if you need to take a vitamin D supplement. There is no consensus on vitamin D levels required for optimal health, and it differs depending on age and health conditions. Compared to women, vitamin D deficiency is increasingly reported in men[2] [3] .

The deficiency of vitamin D can lead to rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. This occurs when a bone tissue does not properly mineralize, leading to soft bones and skeletal deformities. It is estimated that around one billion people worldwide have a vitamin D deficiency, according to the Harvard School of Public Health [4] .

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Researchers have also established associations between low vitamin D levels and prostate cancer. It was also found that men with erectile dysfunction were found to have low levels of vitamin D. People with low vitamin D levels were also found to be diagnosed with schizophrenia when compared to those who had a sufficient amount of vitamin D in their body, as noted by a study [4] .

Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency

In most cases, people with vitamin D deficiency do not present with obvious signs or symptoms.

Studies have reported that the symptoms can change over time, and are similar to symptoms of a wide range of ailments. This makes it difficult for an individual to understand whether they are suffering from vitamin D deficiency [5] .

Some of the common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are as follows [6] :

  • Exhaustion
  • Thinning or brittle bones
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Back pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Low endurance
  • Constant sickness
  • Constant mood swings
  • Muscle pain
  • Chronic pain
  • Frequent bone fractures
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • High or rising blood pressure
  • Infertility

Causes Of Vitamin D Deficiency

The central reasons responsible for the development of this vitamin deficiency are as follows [7] :

  • Limited exposure to sunlight (living at a high altitude)
  • Low consumption of the recommended levels of the vitamin
  • Dark skin
  • The inability of the kidneys to convert vitamin D to its active form
  • The inability of the digestive tract to adequately absorb vitamin D
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • Diet
  • Pollution
  • Age
  • Gut health

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Treatment For Vitamin D Deficiency

The three main treatments for vitamin D deficiency are as follows [8] [9] :

  • Take vitamin D supplements. The dosage recommended for most adults is 600 IU, and for adults over the age of 70, the RDA is 800 IU. For children under 12 months, it is 400 IU.
  • Eat foods rich in vitamin D such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel, as well as fish liver oils. Also, foods such as cheese, and egg yolks contain small quantities of vitamin D.
  • Increase exposure to natural sunlight by doing outdoor activities that are good for your body as well.

Prevention

There are several ways in which you can prevent vitamin D deficiency and they are as follows [10] :

  • Maintaining a healthy body weight
  • Monitoring and treating medical conditions affecting your gut, kidney and liver
  • Using vitamin D supplements
  • Talking to a doctor about any changes in health

Infographics by Sharan Jayanth

View Article References
  1. [1] Holick, M. F. (2007). Vitamin D deficiency. New England Journal of Medicine, 357(3), 266-281.
  2. [2] Holick, M. F., Binkley, N. C., Bischoff-Ferrari, H. A., Gordon, C. M., Hanley, D. A., Heaney, R. P., ... & Weaver, C. M. (2011). Evaluation, treatment, and prevention of vitamin D deficiency: an Endocrine Society clinical practice guideline. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 96(7), 1911-1930.
  3. [3] Judd, S., & Tangpricha, V. (2008). Vitamin D deficiency and risk for cardiovascular disease. Circulation, 117(4), 503.
  4. [4] Wagner, C. L., & Greer, F. R. (2008). Prevention of rickets and vitamin D deficiency in infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatrics, 122(5), 1142-1152.
  5. [5] Holick, M. F., & Chen, T. C. (2008). Vitamin D deficiency: a worldwide problem with health consequences. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 87(4), 1080S-1086S.
  6. [6] Misra, M., Pacaud, D., Petryk, A., Collett-Solberg, P. F., & Kappy, M. (2008). Vitamin D deficiency in children and its management: review of current knowledge and recommendations. Pediatrics, 122(2), 398-417.
  7. [7] Lee, J. H., O'Keefe, J. H., Bell, D., Hensrud, D. D., & Holick, M. F. (2008). Vitamin D deficiency: an important, common, and easily treatable cardiovascular risk factor?. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 52(24), 1949-1956.
  8. [8] Gloth, F. M., Gundberg, C. M., Hollis, B. W., Haddad, J. G., & Tobin, J. D. (1995). Vitamin D deficiency in homebound elderly persons. Jama, 274(21), 1683-1686.
  9. [9] Wilkinson, R. J., Llewelyn, M., Toossi, Z., Patel, P., Pasvol, G., Lalvani, A., ... & Davidson, R. N. (2000). Influence of vitamin D deficiency and vitamin D receptor polymorphisms on tuberculosis among Gujarati Asians in west London: a case-control study. The Lancet, 355(9204), 618-621.
  10. [10] Kamen, D. L., Cooper, G. S., Bouali, H., Shaftman, S. R., Hollis, B. W., & Gilkeson, G. S. (2006). Vitamin D deficiency in systemic lupus erythematosus. Autoimmunity reviews, 5(2), 114-117.
Karthika ThirugnanamClinical Nutritionist and Dietitian
MS, RDN (USA)
Karthika Thirugnanam

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