vitamin d deficiency: warning signs and symptoms

Jill Bridges, SATI STAFF

If you’re someone who is interested in living as healthy a lifestyle as possible, then you’re probably aware there are a variety of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals that your body needs to function properly. However, many people are unaware that one of the most crucial vitamins that you need for your long-term health is vitamin D.

Vitamin D is unique among vitamins in that it actually behaves as a hormone when it’s in your body, and in fact, every cell in your body is designed to receive vitamin D [1]. While there are a variety of sources for vitamin D, the most well-known is the sun, with your body using the vitamin D in sunlight to create cholesterol.

As you can see, vitamin D is incredibly important, which is why a vitamin D deficiency is so serious. If you’re concerned about your vitamin D intake, it’s important to learn about a few warning signs that your diet may be lacking in this important vitamin. Learn the warning signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency, and find out how you can get more of this vitamin in your life.

How much vitamin D do you need?

Almost everyone understands that there is a daily recommended amount of vitamins they need to consume if they want to live a healthy life. However, few people know these numbers off-hand, making it difficult to get the vitamins you need. This is particularly true with vitamin D, as your daily recommended value fluctuates based on your lifestyle. For example, people who are exposed to regular sunlight will need less vitamin D than other people.

To help people understand how much vitamin D they need on a daily basis, the Institute of Medicine has constructed a guideline that breaks down vitamin D intake by age group. These numbers assume that the person gets almost no vitamin D from sunlight.

Infants that are less than a year old need at least 400 IU of vitamin D daily. Anyone between the ages of 1 and 70 need 600 IU a day. Those over the age of 71 should increase their daily intake to 800 IU [5, 6]. By following these guidelines, you should easily be able to get the right level of vitamin D on a daily basis.

Risk factors for vitamin D deficiency

Vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common conditions that a person could suffer. In fact, there is evidence that suggests there are as many as one billion people across the world who have insufficient levels of vitamin D in their body [2]. Other studies have shown that as much as 40% of Americans are vitamin D deficient.

While vitamin D deficiency is frighteningly common, there are certain risk factors that increase a person’s chances for experiencing this condition. For example, people with darker complexions and the elderly are commonly vitamin D deficient, as are people that suffer from obesity. If your diet doesn’t contain enough milk or fish, you may also be deficient. Other risk factors include, living far from the equator, never going outdoors, and using sunscreen while outside.

If you fall into one of these previously mentioned categories, you need to pay close attention to your vitamin D levels and be on the lookout for the signs and symptoms that you may be suffering from a vitamin D deficiency.

Frequent illness

Vitamin D plays a crucial role in a robust immune system that is capable of combatting disease and infection. The cells in your body that are most responsible for fighting infection depend on and interact with vitamin D. If you are vitamin D deficient, your immune system will struggle to fight off bacteria [7, 8]. This means that one of the biggest warning signs of vitamin D deficiency is frequent or chronic illness.

If it seems like you’re constantly fighting off a cold, or you experience multiple bouts of the flu, the culprit may be a vitamin D deficiency. There is a large body of research that indicates vitamin D levels are directly linked with serious illnesses like pneumonia, respiratory tract infections, and bronchitis. Some studies have shown that large doses of vitamin D supplements may lower your risk of suffering from these respiratory infections.

Vitamin D is such a powerful vitamin that one study showed that people suffering from COPD who were also vitamin D deficient experienced improvement in their condition after taking vitamin D supplements for a year. If you want to maintain your health, particularly your respiratory health, you need to be sure you’re getting enough vitamin D.

Persistent fatigue

If you’ve ever experienced an extended period of fatigue or tiredness, then you know how difficult it can be to live your life as you are accustomed. While there are countless causes of fatigue, including lack of sleep, there is growing evidence that people suffering from chronic fatigue may also be suffering from a vitamin D deficiency.

Several studies have indicated that people whose blood is lacking in vitamin D are much more susceptible to fatigue than those with normal vitamin D levels. Additionally, one study showed that a woman dealing with persistent fatigue saw a complete reversal of her symptoms when she added a vitamin D supplement to her daily routine [9]. A much larger study found that female nurses who reported fatigue were almost always deficient in vitamin D [10].

Chronic fatigue can be a very serious condition that has the potential to lower your quality of life. While it’s important that you consult a doctor about your fatigue, you might also consider taking a vitamin D supplement to relieve your symptoms.

Bone pain

Vitamin D provides support throughout your body, and this includes your bones. This vitamin is crucial in maintaining your bone health, primarily because it allows your body to absorb calcium more effectively. When your levels of vitamin D are lower than they should be, you can experience a wide variety of effects, including pain in your bones and lower back [11].

Numerous studies have linked vitamin D deficiency with bone and back pain, with the link being strongest for chronic pain [12]. The risk for back and bone pain due to vitamin D deficiency is much higher in older people. For instance, one study examined the effects of vitamin D deficiency in older women and found that they were more likely to experience chronic, severe back pain that interfered with their daily life.

Another study found that a person who is vitamin D deficient has a likelihood of experiencing pain in their legs, joints, and ribs that is two times higher than a person who isn’t vitamin D deficient [13]. Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D on a daily basis if you want to prevent debilitating pain in your bones and lower back.

Effects to your mood

So far, we’ve only discussed the effects that vitamin D deficiency can have on your body. However, failing to receive enough of this important substance may also have negative impacts on your mind, particularly in relation to your mood. For instance, researchers have found that vitamin D deficiency may be positively linked to depression, mostly in older adults [14].

While not as concrete as controlled trials, a large number of observational studies point to a link between inferior levels of vitamin D and depression [15]. Controlled trials, however, have not been able to provide a conclusive link between these two issues, although the doses of vitamin D given in these studies were typically lower than a person would take in their everyday life.

If you suffer from seasonal depression, you might be interested to learn that there is some evidence that shows vitamin D is effective at correcting these issues [16]. A small amount of controlled testing found that people who were deficient in vitamin D and were then given a supplement showed improvement in their seasonal depression. Improving your mood may be a matter of making sure you’re getting the right amount of vitamin D.

Healing of wounds

As mentioned in a previous section, vitamin D deficiency was linked to a lowered immune response. Similarly, there have been a variety of studies that show a lack of vitamin D may impair wound healing [17]. A test tube study of vitamin D found that this vitamin triggered production of compounds in the body that are responsible for creating new skin during wound healing. This means that a lack of vitamin D may prolong or prevent wounds from healing normally.

In a study focused on dental surgery patients [18, 19], researchers found that subjects who had low levels of vitamin D in their blood had a slower, compromised healing process. It is assumed that the reason vitamin D deficiency results in slower healing is because this vitamin plays an important part in reducing inflammation and combatting infection.

For instance, one study showed that diabetics with foot infections who also were vitamin D deficient were more likely to suffer from inflammation that interfered with healing. If you’re experiencing wounds that are struggling to heal, you should consider asking your doctor about your vitamin D levels.

Bone loss

Vitamin D, as mentioned, plays a vital role in bone health, particularly in relation to the absorption of calcium. In addition, vitamin D is largely responsible for bone metabolism. Because vitamin D is such a vital part of continued bone health, it may be no surprise that vitamin D deficiency has been linked to bone loss over time.

When experiencing bone loss, many people assume that they need more calcium. While this may be true, it is just as likely that they’re experiencing a vitamin D deficiency. A study of more than 1,000 women who were either in menopause or postmenopausal found that deficient levels of vitamin D were directly linked to a loss in bone density [20]. If your bone density is too low, it means your bones are weaker and have higher risk of experiencing fractures.

Unfortunately, once bone density loss has occurred, there is no indication that improving vitamin D intake restored density [21, 22, 23]. This makes it extremely important to be certain that you’re getting the proper amount of vitamin D so that you can more effectively combat bone density loss as you age.

Losing hair

Hair loss is a major concern for most people, and when you experience rapid, severe hair loss, it often points to a serious condition. For instance, sudden hair loss is almost always caused by an underlying disease or nutritional deficiency. If you’re suffering from unexplained hair loss, it’s possible that the culprit may be low vitamin D levels in your bloodstream.

While the studies have been somewhat limited, there is good evidence that vitamin D deficiency can cause hair loss in women [24]. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to an autoimmune disease known as alopecia areata. The most severe symptoms of this disease include extensive hair loss throughout the body [25].

Some studies have shown that chronic vitamin D deficiency may put you at a higher risk for this condition and that it may result in more severe hair loss once you’ve developed alopecia areata. According to one study, it may be possible to treat hair loss due to vitamin D deficiency by applying a topical cream that features this vitamin. Maintaining your vitamin D levels is crucial in fighting autoimmune disorders and preventing severe hair loss.

Pain in your muscles

Chronic pain conditions can be very difficult to handle, especially because it can be very difficult to diagnose the cause of your pain. While there are a wide variety of conditions that can result in muscle pain, evidence suggests that vitamin D deficiency can cause muscle pain in both adults and children. In fact, a study of people suffering from chronic pain found that 71% of participants were also vitamin D deficient [26].

Although the link between vitamin D deficiency and muscle pain has not been proven, the likely cause is that nerve cells that sense pain, also called nociceptors, contain a vitamin D receptor [27]. A limited number of studies have shown that high-dose vitamin D supplements may reduce pain in those who are vitamin D deficient. There is also evidence that vitamin D can aid with growing pains for children who are already vitamin D deficient.

If you’ve ever experienced chronic pain, then you know how important it is to find relief. In addition to pain relievers, it may be possible to reduce your pain levels by ensuring that you are getting your daily recommended amount of vitamin D.

Vitamin D negatives

Before you take any kind of supplement, even one as important as vitamin D, it’s a good idea to examine a few of the drawbacks. While vitamin D is vital to continued health, taking too much vitamin D can result in very serious consequences.

When vitamin D is applied to the skin, it has the potential of triggering an allergic reaction in the form of rashes, inflammation, and itching. Consuming too much vitamin D may also result in serious conditions like calcium buildup in the arteries, fluctuations in your cholesterol levels, and a higher risk of heart attack and stroke [29]. Taking vitamin D supplements may also result in headaches and daytime sleepiness [4].

If you suffer from diabetes, you should consult a doctor before taking a vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D has been shown to have an effect on blood sugar levels, so your levels may need to be monitored by a healthcare professional while you are taking a vitamin D supplement [30]. Consider these side effects before taking vitamin D, and be sure to consult with your doctor so that you can be sure supplementing your vitamin D is a good choice.

How do you get more vitamin D?

The great thing about vitamin D is that it is very easy to replenish your levels if you find that you are deficient. Once you understand the best sources of vitamin D, you should be able to reap all of the benefits of this vitamin and prevent deficiencies in the future.

Perhaps the easiest and most enjoyable way to improve your vitamin D levels is to spend more time outdoors. The sun is one of the best sources of vitamin D that there is, and getting regular exposure to sunlight is a great way to combat vitamin D deficiency. Another option to improve vitamin D intake is to start eating foods that are rich in this vitamin. Foods that contain high vitamin D levels include salmon, cod liver oil, egg yolks, and fortified milk [3].

While some people choose to take a vitamin D supplement, it’s usually a better idea to get your vitamin D through natural sources like the ones mentioned above. Target these sources and you’ll easily be able to improve your vitamin D levels.

The sati line

People who are focused on living a healthy lifestyle understand that they need to consume several vitamins and nutrients on a daily basis, and one of the most important vitamins for continued health is vitamin D. Vitamin D is crucial to countless areas of your body, including your immune system and bones.

Suffering a deficiency in vitamin D can have very serious consequences, especially if you’re someone who is already at risk for a deficiency. Neglecting your recommended vitamin D levels can cause chronic illness, a reduction in your bone health and density, and may even result in serious mood disorders like depression.

Fortunately, combatting vitamin D deficiency isn’t as difficult as you might imagine, particularly if you’re aware of the many warning signs. By eating foods rich in vitamin D and making an effort to spend more time in the sun, you’ll be able to maintain the proper levels of vitamin D in your body and as well as promote your long-term health and vitality.


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