What is vitamin D deficiency?
Vitamin D deficiency refers to a lack of vitamin D in your body. Vitamin D is unique in that it is produced by your skin through exposure to sunlight. Individuals with fair skin and those under the age of 50 convert sunlight into vitamin D far more efficiently than those with darker skin and those over the age of 50.
Why is vitamin D so important?
Vitamin D is one of many vitamins that our bodies require to function properly. This vitamin serves a variety of purposes, including:
1)Maintaining bone strength
Having strong bones protects you from a variety of conditions, including rickets. Rickets is a bone disorder that causes children’s bones to be weak and soft. It is caused by a deficiency in vitamin D in the body. Vitamin D is required for calcium and phosphorus to be used in bone formation. Adults with soft bones have a condition known as osteomalacia.
2) Calcium absorption
Vitamin D, along with calcium, aids in the formation of bones and the maintenance of bone strength and health. Weak bones can lead to osteoporosis, which is characterized by a loss of bone density and can result in fractures. Vitamin D is converted to an active form after being consumed orally or through sun exposure. It is the active form that promotes optimal calcium absorption from your diet.
3) Working with the parathyroid glands
The parathyroid glands communicate with the kidneys, gut, and skeleton to balance the calcium in the blood on a minute-by-minute basis. When there is enough calcium in the diet and enough active Vitamin D, dietary calcium is absorbed and used effectively throughout the body. If calcium intake is insufficient or vitamin D levels are low, the parathyroid glands will ‘borrow’ calcium from the skeleton to keep blood calcium levels normal.
4) Signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency is difficult to detect because symptoms may not appear for months or years. You may not have any symptoms at all at times. Keeping this in mind, knowing what signs and symptoms to look for is still beneficial.
5) Infections or illnesses that occur frequently
One of vitamin D’s most important functions is to support immune health, which aids in the defense against viruses and bacteria that cause illness. Vitamin D interacts directly with the cells that are in charge of fighting infections. If you get sick frequently, especially with colds or the flu, low vitamin D levels may be a factor. A deficiency has been linked to respiratory tract infections such as colds, bronchitis, and pneumonia in several large observational studies.
Several studies have found that taking up to 4,000 IU of vitamin D per day may reduce the risk of respiratory tract infections. Vitamin D deficiency has recently been linked to an increased risk of COVID-19, as well as an increased risk of experiencing severe symptoms from the condition. It is important to note, however, that taking vitamin D supplements – at any dose – will not prevent COVID-19.
6) Tiredness and fatigue
Feeling tired can be caused by a variety of factors, one of which is a vitamin D deficiency. In contrast to more obvious causes such as stress, depression, and insomnia, vitamin D deficiency is frequently overlooked as a potential cause of fatigue. One study of 480 older adults found a link between vitamin D deficiency and fatigue symptoms. Furthermore, a study of 39 children found that low vitamin D levels were associated with poor sleep quality, shorter sleep duration, and later bedtimes.
One observational study of female nurses discovered a strong relationship between low vitamin D levels and self-reported fatigue. Furthermore, 89 percent of those who took part were deficient in this vitamin. Interestingly, several studies have found that supplementing with this vitamin may reduce the severity of fatigue in people who are deficient.
7) Back and bone pain
Inadequate vitamin D levels may cause bone and lower back pain. Vitamin D promotes bone health by improving calcium absorption in the body. In one study of 98 adults with lower back pain, lower levels of vitamin D were linked to more severe pain. A large research review, however, discovered that this association was inconsistent across other similar studies.
A review of 81 studies also discovered that people with arthritis, muscle pain, and chronic widespread pain had lower levels of vitamin D than those who did not have these conditions.
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to depression, particularly in older adults, though some research findings are contradictory. The effects of vitamin D supplements have been mixed, but some studies have found that they can help relieve depression symptoms.
9) Wound healing impairment
Slow wound healing after surgery or injury may indicate a deficiency in vitamin D. According to the findings of a test-tube study, vitamin D increases the production of compounds that are essential for the formation of new skin as part of the wound-healing process. A meta-analysis of four studies discovered that vitamin D deficiency hampered certain aspects of healing in people who had dental surgery.
The role of vitamin D in reducing inflammation and fighting infections may also be important for proper healing. An older study of 221 people, 112 of whom had diabetes-related foot infections, discovered that those with severe vitamin D deficiency had higher levels of inflammatory markers that can jeopardize healing.
In a 12-week study of 60 people with diabetes-related foot ulcers, those who took a vitamin D supplement had significantly better wound healing than the placebo group.
10) Bone loss
Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption and bone metabolism. This is significant because taking vitamin D and calcium together allows your body to maximize absorption.
A decrease in bone mineral density indicates that your bones have lost calcium and other minerals. This increases the risk of fractures in older adults, particularly women. Researchers discovered a strong link between low vitamin D levels and low bone mineral density in a large observational study of over 1,100 middle-aged menopausal or postmenopausal women.
However, studies on vitamin D supplementation therapy in independent older adults have produced conflicting results. While some studies show some benefits, such as reduced muscle pain, others have found that it does not prevent bone loss.
Anxiety disorders have been linked to vitamin D deficiency. According to one study, people with anxiety and depression had lower levels of calcidiol, a type of vitamin D. A separate study in pregnant women discovered that adequate vitamin D levels can help reduce anxiety symptoms, improve sleep quality, and even prevent postpartum depression.
What causes vitamin D deficiency?
Vitamin D deficiency can be caused by a variety of medical conditions, including:
1)Cystic fibrosis, Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease
These conditions prevent the intestines from absorbing enough vitamin D from supplements.
2) Surgery for weight loss
Weight loss surgeries that reduce the size of the stomach and/or bypass a portion of the small intestine make it difficult to consume enough nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. These people must be closely monitored by their doctors and must continue to take vitamin D and other supplements for the rest of their lives.
A BMI of 30 or higher is associated with lower vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is kept isolated in fat cells and is not released. Obese people are more likely to be vitamin D deficient. Obesity frequently necessitates higher doses of vitamin D supplements in order to achieve and maintain normal D levels.
4) Kidney and liver disease
These conditions reduce the amount of an enzyme required to convert vitamin D into a form that the body can use. A lack of this enzyme results in a low level of active vitamin D in the body.
What other factors can lead to vitamin D deficiency?
As we get older, our skin’s ability to produce vitamin D decreases.
People who are homebound or spend little time outside (for example, those in nursing homes and other facilities) are unable to benefit from sun exposure as a source of vitamin D.
3) Skin color
Dark skin is less capable of producing vitamin D than fair skin.
4) Human breast milk
A woman’s breast milk contains very little vitamin D. Infant formulas frequently contain only a trace of vitamin D. As a result, infants are at risk of not getting enough vitamin D. This is especially true for infants who are exclusively breastfed.
How is vitamin D deficiency identified?
A blood test can be ordered by your doctor to determine your vitamin D levels. There are two types of tests that may be ordered, but the most common is the 25-hydroxyvitamin D test, abbreviated as 25(OH)D. A technician will use a needle to draw blood from a vein for the blood test. You do not need to fast or prepare in any other way for this type of test.
What are the implications of vitamin D test results?
There are some differing views on what levels of vitamin D are best for each individual. Different numbers may be used for reference by laboratories. Please consult your doctor about your results.
How often should you have your vitamin D levels checked?
Doctors do not usually order routine vitamin D tests, but they may do so if you have certain medical conditions or risk factors for vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D levels can sometimes be tested as a cause of symptoms such as long-lasting body aches, a history of falls, or bone fractures without significant trauma.
How is vitamin D deficiency treatment?
Supplements are typically used to treat vitamin D deficiency. If a healthcare professional discovers that you have a deficiency, they may suggest the following treatments.
Vitamin D deficiency is typically treated with oral supplements. You can get these over the counter, but you should consult a doctor for dosage recommendations. Magnesium aids in the activation of vitamin D, so you may want to supplement with this mineral as well. A doctor may prescribe prescription vitamin D for severe deficiency, which comes in much higher doses of up to 50,000 IU. Your doctor may also advise you to get vitamin D injections.
Eating more vitamin D-rich foods
See the vitamin D food sources table included in this article. Keep in mind that foods alone usually do not provide enough vitamin D to meet the RDA.
Getting some sun exposure—but not too much
It’s unclear how much sun exposure is required. 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure to the face, arms, legs, or back two to three times per week may be all that is required to absorb an adequate amount of vitamin D. You may require more sun exposure (especially in the early spring and late fall) if you:
- You’re getting older.
- You have a darker complexion.
- You live in cold climates.
The use of sunscreen, as well as standing in front of a window, prevents vitamin D production in the skin. However, keep in mind that excessive sun exposure increases the risk of skin cancer and ages the skin. As a result, taking an appropriately dosed D supplement is far safer than getting regular sun exposure.
Vitamin D deficiency is surprisingly common, but the symptoms are often subtle and nonspecific, making it difficult to distinguish between a deficiency and another health condition. If you suspect you have a deficiency, consult a healthcare professional about getting a blood test. Vitamin D deficiency is typically treated with supplements, but the correct dosage may necessitate the advice of a doctor. Getting more sun and eating more vitamin D-rich foods like fatty fish and fortified dairy products can also help. Addressing a vitamin D deficiency is worthwhile and can have long-term health benefits.