Vitamin D deficiency can lead to a variety of symptoms and possibly even life threatening diseases, but many people around the world still lack sufficient levels of it.
Are you feeling sluggish, suffering from bone and joint pain or a weakened immune system? If so, it’s possible that you could be among the estimated one billion people worldwide who are deficient in Vitamin D, sometimes referred to as the sunshine vitamin. While this vitamin is essential for overall health and development, studies have revealed that its deficiency has reached pandemic levels due to various lifestyle choices and modernization of societies. In this blog post we’ll look at what makes vitamin D so essential for our overall well being; what are its main known benefits; as well as why many of us might be lacking adequate levels of it without even realizing it.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is produced in the skin when it’s exposed to sunlight. It helps our bodies to absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus, which are both important in maintaining bone health. Unfortunately, though, many people throughout the world are still just not getting enough. This may be due to the fact that there are very few foods which naturally contain vitamin D, though some, like milk and cereal are fortified. Perhaps it is our fear of skin cancer keeping us out of the sun, or maybe it’s due to working in dark buildings, living in areas with less sunlight, aging, skin color, certain medical conditions, or even simply not wanting to go outside.
The difficulty with catching Vitamin D deficiency is that you may not experience any symptoms or it may take months or years to show signs. Some symptoms include frequent illness or infections, fatigue, back pain, bone pain, muscle pain, depression, anxiety, hair loss, and weight gain. A less obvious symptom is bone loss. Again, not everyone will have all of these symptoms and some may have none of them, they may be subtle or could be attributed to other health conditions.
Beyond the symptoms above, there are some real health consequences that arise from vitamin D deficiency. The most common is softening of the bones, rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Rickets causes bone malformation in children because the area at the end of the bones, called “growth plates,” are softened. This results in delayed growth, delayed motor skills, bone pain, and muscle weakness and spasms; as well as skeletal deformities such as bowed legs, thickened wrists and ankles, and a protruding breastbone. Osteomalacia can cause difficulty walking, more easily broken bones, and pins and needles in hands and feet caused by low calcium levels. Some studies have found that vitamin D deficiency may also lead to several life threatening diseases including cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, although more research needs to be conducted for these studies to be conclusive.
Treatment for vitamin D deficiency is quite simple: supplements. These supplements can be purchased over the counter or your doctor may prescribe them depending on how severe the deficiency is. Sun exposure is generally not recommended due to the risk of skin cancer. A blood test will show if you are low as well as how low, which will help your doctor determine if or how much supplementation is necessary.
Vitamin D is an incredibly important part of our overall health and wellbeing. If we are unable to gain adequate amounts from sunlight, then it is essential that we supplement with food sources or supplements. Nonetheless, since vitamin D deficiencies are not easily noticeable, it’s a wise idea to speak with your healthcare provider about getting your vitamin D levels checked. Without knowing the extent of our deficiency, managing it can be difficult, if not impossible. Furthermore, having optimal levels of Vitamin D can help reduce the risk of developing more serious medical issues in the long run.
Harvard School of Public Health. (2023, March 7). Vitamin D. The Nutrition Source. Retrieved April 19, 2023, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-d/
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Hollick, M. F., & Chen, T. C. (2008, April 1). Vitamin D deficiency: a worldwide problem with health consequences. Oxford Academic. Retrieved April 19, 2023, from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/87/4/1080S/4633477
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Mayo Clinic Staff. (2021, February 25). Rickets. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved April 19, 2023, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rickets/symptoms-causes/syc-20351943
Erin McGreal RN, BSN