Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms, Sources Diagnose Prevention & Treatment

What is Vitamin D?

Just like its cousin vitamin C, vitamin D is also a well-known vitamin and deservingly so, because the whole world revolves around the source that allows the body to produce it. It is a fat-soluble vitamin that is produced by the body once it is exposed to sunlight. The body receives vitamin D through its skin, it is also present in various food items and is also available in the form of a supplement. One important thing to note here is that vitamin D is not active when it enters our body, for it to become functional it body first converts it into its active form called 25-hydroxyvitamin D.

Vitamin D mainly contributes to absorbing calcium which is another nutrient essential for strong bone health. It also helps in protecting and enhancing the nervous system, muscles, and immune system. Lack of vitamin D can lead to losing bone density, which can further lead to diseases like osteoporosis and frequent fractures. Other major illness may include rickets (bone softening), osteomalacia, multiple sclerosis, and even cancer. 

Sources of vitamin D

The best and most abundant source of vitamin D is the sun but it doesn’t mean that one should spend all day every day in the sun, it can not only damage the skin but also increase the of developing skin cancer. A person should not spend too much amount of time outdoors every day without properly applying sunscreen on their forearms, hands, face and lower legs, otherwise the rays of the sun can cause sunburns, skin darkening and various other skin problems. 

People living in warm countries should spend comparatively less time in the sun than people living in colder regions. If a person isn’t sure then he/she must ask their doctor about the time limit as the doctor can give the best advice depending on the skin sensitivity and other factors. 

Apart from the sun, other sources that provide vitamin D are food items like cheese, beef liver, egg yolks, mushrooms, oil-based fish like salmon, tuna or mackerel, and certain fortified foods like breakfast cereals, orange juices, margarine, soy drinks, milk and dairy products like yoghurt. 

Cod liver oil, herring and swordfish is also an excellent source of vitamin D, among mushroom, raw maitake mushrooms, dried shiitake mushrooms and some UV exposed mushrooms can also be a good source. Vitamin D supplements are also available in both pill and liquid form, it is mostly consumed by babies. Vitamin D can also be found in many multivitamins. It must be noted that a doctor should be consulted before taking vitamin D supplements because he can prescribe a proper dosage according to your needs, otherwise it can result in having adverse effects.

Although consuming more nutritious items is a good thing but as it is rightly said that excess of everything is bad, it applies to consuming an excess of vitamin D too. Excess of vitamin D is commonly known as vitamin D toxicity and its symptoms include nausea, reduced appetite, weight loss, weakness, vomiting, and constipation. Vitamin D toxicity can damage the kidneys and can increase the level of calcium in your blood also known as hypercalcemia which can lead to confusion, disorientation and fluctuating rhythms of the heart. Vitamin toxicity is most common among individuals who take too many supplements. 

Functions of Vitamin D 

Vitamin D is an important nutrient that performs various important functions that help us stay healthy and prolong our lives. The most important function of vitamin D is contributing to the absorption of calcium in the body which is important for supporting bone health. Apart from that, it helps in enhancing muscle health, controlling and protecting the immune system, assisting in the protecting the growth of the cells, decreasing inflammation in the bones and avoiding diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis and lastly but certainly not least it is responsible for checking the blood pressure and maintaining our cardiovascular health.

Deficiency of Vitamin D 

When the body is not getting enough dosage of vitamin D it then suffers from vitamin D deficiency and here are some symptoms of vitamin D deficiency that you must look out for to prevent it from happening to you:

1. Pain in the Muscles

Although the reason for muscle pain is usually hard to deduce, it can range from a slight pull to an injury to an onset of a major disorder, but there have been pieces of evidence that have linked muscle pains to vitamin D deficiency. Nerve cells consist of vitamin D receptors called nociceptors which sense pain and are hence stimulated. Also, in many cases taking vitamin D supplements during muscle pains have resulted in the reduction of pain hence realizing the deficiency.

2. Loss of Hair 

Hair fall is usually due to stress and tension and is very common among people of different ages but when hair loss is severe it usually is a sign of a deficiency of some nutrient in the body. Vitamin D deficiency causes rickets, which is a disease that causes soft and brittle bones, and it is also associated with an autoimmune disease called Alopecia areata which causes severe hair loss all over the body. Hair loss has been successfully treated by applying a synthetic form of vitamin D.

3. Fatigue 

Fatigue and tiredness is a vague symptom and may not be easily detected and related to vitamin D deficiency. There can be many causes of fatigue and one of them, if not the immediate cause, is the deficiency of this vitamin. It is been observed that extremely low blood levels caused fatigue. There have been many cases where prolonged daytime fatigue, lethargy and even headaches have been caused by vitamin D deficiency. Only when the vitamin D supplement was taken, the condition improved.

4. Frequent Sickness

One of the main functions of vitamin D is to protect the immune system by eliminating bacteria and viruses. If a person falls ill frequently and suffers from flu or cold then there a good chance that it might be due to vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency can also lead to major illnesses like bronchitis, pneumonia and the lung disorder COPD. Therefore including vitamin D through various foods or supplementation reduces the risk of suffering from any of these diseases. 

5. Bone Loss

This one is important to understand, vitamin D is responsible for the absorption of calcium and bone metabolism and it is important to know that calcium needs vitamin D to absorb in the body and make bones strong. So people suffering from weak bones may sometimes think that they need more calcium but in reality, it is vitamin D that they lack and because of that the calcium in their body is getting wasted. Vitamin D deficiency also causes low bone mineral health which can be bad for middle-aged women in menopause. 

6. Slow Healing

If sometimes a person ever had a wound that took forever to heal then it could have been due to vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D intensifies the creation of compounds that are vital for the formation of new skin during the process of healing of a wound. It also fights infection and controls inflammation which makes healing more quick and effective. Inflammatory markers are caused by vitamin D deficiency and they hinder the healing process. Foods containing vitamin D have also known to be effective in boosting the treatment of leg ulcers and reducing the size of the ulcers.

7. Back Pain/Bone Pain

As mentioned earlier, vitamin D is responsible for the absorption of calcium in the body and maintaining healthy bones. Lower back pains and bone pains can be due to the lack of vitamin D in the body, especially in older women. People with low levels of vitamin D in their bodies are prone to have severe back pains, bone pains in their legs, joints, and even ribs. This can cause limitation in their day to day activities including affecting their walking and sitting postures. 

8. Depression

Depression is another vague symptom of vitamin D deficiency and may not be immediately related to it but it is one of the causes of the illness. Depression, just like any other illness, can be caused due to a lack of certain nutrients in the body which hinder the nervous system and cause a feeling of sadness. Vitamin D has been seen to contribute successfully in treated depression especially seasonal depression during winters and also among older patients. 

Reasons for Deficiency of Vitamin D

There is much reason that can cause a person to suffer from vitamin D deficiency and the most common reason can be if a person is not getting enough vitamin D through his/her diet, or if a person is not able to absorb enough of it. Not going in the sun enough can also lead to this deficiency, hence it is important, especially for children, to go out in the sun and spend a sufficient amount of time to let it in. People who live away from the equator are more likely to be deficient as their skin cannot produce enough vitamin D to satisfy the needs of their body. 

Another cause of having vitamin D deficiency is when the kidneys or the liver is not able to convert vitamin D to its active form due to illnesses faced by these organs or when you are under certain medication that does not allow the body to absorb vitamin D. Some other reasons are smoking because it affects the gene that is responsible for producing vitamin D-3, obesity, age factors as vitamin D conversion decreases with age, pregnancy, breastfeeding infants because mother’s milk is low on vitamin D and certain skin types that can’t handle exposure to sunlight. 

Dosage of Vitamin D

The quantity of vitamin D needed by a person per day depends on age, exposure to UVB, their diet and the status of their health. The recommended dosage by experts suggest that children up to the age of 1 year must have 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day, children aged 1 – 13 years must have 600 IU per day, teenagers, that is, from 14 – 18 years must also consume 600 IU per day, and adults aged from 19 – 70 years must ingest 600 IU per day and adults aged 71 years and above must consume 800 IU per day. Pregnant ladies and breastfeeding mothers must have 600 IU per day.

Tests and Treatment of Vitamin D Deficiency 

Vitamin D deficiency can be determined through the 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test which is known to show the most accurate results. For a person to be deemed vitamin D abundant he/she must have 20 nanograms/millilitres to 50 nanograms/millilitres of vitamin D in his/her body. Any level of fewer than 12 nanograms/millilitres is considered to be a deficit. 

Treatment for vitamin D deficiency is usually done through proper diet and necessary supplementation. There is no known absolute quantity that is required by the body for maintaining good health because it depends on the age of a person and the health condition. Any level below 20 nanograms/millilitres is sufficient enough to diagnose a person with the deficiency and begin proper treatment. 

Prevention from Vitamin D Deficiency 

Having mentioned the test and the treatments, it must also be remembered that precaution is always better can cure. You should eat nutritious food and have an active lifestyle and it will not only prevent vitamin D deficiency but will also protect you from other diseases. 

You should maintain healthy body weight, daily 40 min walks and cycling will help burn calories and give sufficient exposure to sunlight. Proper treatment of medical conditions that hinder the absorption of nutrients can boost the levels of nutrients in the body. You should be proactive in your approach and with regular check-up, you must keep an eye out for any conditions that you are at risk of developing especially conditions that can be inherited from your family. 

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