Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that has a wonderful effect on several systems throughout our body. Unlike other vitamins, Vitamin D actually functions like a hormone. And every cell in our body has a receptor for it.
It is also present in certain foods, like fatty fish and fortified dairy products. But a proper diet alone is not enough to get Vitamin D.
The recommended daily intake is often around 400-800 IU, but several experts have indicated even more than that. Vitamin D deficiency is a common condition. It is estimated that about 1 billion people around the world have low levels of vitamin in their blood.
People who live in harsh cold weather conditions and get less exposure to the sun are more likely to be deficient because their skin does not produce enough Vitamin D to fulfil their body requirements.
Several people do not realize they are deficient, as the symptoms are mostly subtle. You may not notice these symptoms easily even if they are having a negative effect on your life.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin-D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which increases in the body when the skin gets exposed to sunlight. It is present in only a small amount of foods, including milk. Vitamin D is known to support calcium metabolism.
It can help to absorb calcium from food sources and supplements to sustain the protection of healthy bone cells. Vitamin D not only absorbs calcium to protect bones but performs other functions in the body.
Vitamin D also benefits the body by:
- Supporting muscle health
- Boosting the immune system
- Helping cell-growth
- Reduces inflammation leading to illnesses, like rheumatoid arthritis and cancer
- Regulates blood pressure and supports cardiovascular health
Vitamin D intake is not the best method for fighting deficiency in the body, as several factors can also affect its uptake. For instance, stomach health can interfere with the amount of Vitamin D content a person can absorb from the food they consume.
How much Vitamin D do you need?
The amount of Vitamin D you require daily can depend on your age. The recommended amounts in international units (IU) are:
- Birth-12 months: 400 IU
- Children 1-13 years: 600 IU
- Teens 14-18 years: 600 IU
- Adults 19-70 years: 600 IU
- Adults 71 years and above: 800 IU
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women: 600 IU
People who are at risk to develop Vitamin D deficiency may require more. You may check with a health care professional about how much content your body may require exactly.
Causes of Vitamin D deficiency:
Those suffering from serum Vitamin D levels lesser than 20 nanograms or millilitre are at risk for Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency can occur when a person does not consume enough Vitamin D or when the body cannot absorb Vitamin D they consume.
Here are some factors that suggest whether a person is at risk of suffering from Vitamin D deficiency:
- Living at a high latitude- this is because of less exposure to sun’s UVB rays.
- Spending little or no time outdoors means missing out on direct exposure to sunlight.
- Living in a polluted area can increase the risk of developing Vitamin D deficiency. The pollution can absorb the sun’s rays and reduce the risk to make Vitamin D.
- People with darker skin need more sunlight exposure to absorb enough Vitamin D.
- Warm skin is better for absorbing the sun’s rays to produce Vitamin D compared to cold skin.
- Consuming foods rich in Vitamin D or fortified foods with Vitamin can reduce the risk of developing Vitamin D deficiency.
- Studies suggest that being overweight can relate to lower Vitamin D levels. This may happen due to excessive fat affecting Vitamin D absorption.
- People’s capability to absorb Vitamin D can decline with increasing age.
- Disorders affecting the gut, like Crohn’s disease can weaken the intestine’s ability to absorb Vitamin D.
- People suffering from liver or kidney disease tend to suffer from lower Vitamin D levels.
- The nutritional requirement of an infant or fetus may lower Vitamin D levels, especially in women who are already at risk of Vitamin D deficiency.
- Human milk is low in Vitamin D. Hence, it can lead to Vitamin D Deficiency in children. Nursing infants may require a Vitamin D supplement, especially if they do not move outdoors daily.
Major Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency:
Many people may not realize that they have a Vitamin D deficiency because the symptoms are not evident. You may not notice the symptoms easily, even when it is causing a clear negative effect on your quality of life. With that, here are a few symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency:
1. Getting Sick and Infected Often
One of the major functions of Vitamin D is boosting your immune system in allowing the body to fight off the virus and bacteria-causing illnesses.
It can directly interact with cells that are accountable for fighting off infection. If you become ill too often, especially with colds or flu, low Vitamin D levels may be one of the contributing factors.
There are several observational pieces of research that have shown a connection between Vitamin D deficiency and respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis, colds, and pneumonia.
While a number of other studies have indicated that Vitamin D supplements taken at dosages up to 4000 IU daily can reduce the risk of respiratory tract infections.
Vitamin D plays an important role in strengthening the immune system function. One of the most common symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency is an increased risk of infections or illnesses.
2. Fatigue and Tiredness
Feeling tired can be caused due to several factors and Vitamin D deficiency may be one of the reasons. But people often fail to see it as a potential cause.
In fact, case studies have revealed that low blood levels can lead to fatigue that has a severe negative effect on the quality of life.
In one study, a woman who complained of chronic daytime fatigue and headache was found to have a blood level of only 5.9 nanograms or millilitre. This is considered low as blood level under 20 ng or ml is considered to be deficient.
But people with normal blood levels may also suffer from low energy levels. A large number of observational studies determine the relation between Vitamin D and fatigue in young women.
The studies revealed that women with blood levels under 20 ng or ml or 21-29 ng or ml were more likely to suffer from fatigue than those with blood levels over 30 ng or ml.
Hence, you may note that excessive fatigue and tiredness is a strong sign of Vitamin D deficiency. You can take supplements to improve energy levels.
3. Bone and Back Pain
Vitamin D is essential for maintaining bone health through a number of ways. For one, it can improve the body’s absorption of calcium. Bone pain and lower back pain can be signs of insufficient Vitamin D levels in the blood.
A large number of observational studies have indicated a relationship between deficiency and chronic lower back pain. Another study has assessed the relation between Vitamin D levels and back pain in more than 9000 older women.
The studies have revealed that a deficiency in Vitamin D can lead to back pain and can limit daily activities.
In another study, people suffering from Vitamin D deficiency may nearly as twice as much experience bone pain in their legs, joints, and ribs than those compared with blood levels.
All these studies reveal that low blood levels of Vitamin D can be a contributing cause to bone pain and lower back pain.
A depressed mood may be a sign of Vitamin D deficiency. In several studies, researchers have connected Vitamin D deficiency to depression, especially in older adults. In a research done, 65% found out that observational studies have revealed a relationship between lower blood levels and depression.
On the other side, most of the controlled tests, which carry out scientific weight than observational studies do not show a connection between the two. But, the researchers who noted the studies found out the dosages of Vitamin D in the controlled studies were very low.
While other controlled studies have shown that people taking Vitamin D supplements improve from their depressed state, including seasonal depression occurring during the colder months.
The bottom line is that depression is related to low Vitamin D levels and studies have revealed that taking Vitamin D supplements can improve mood.
5. Impaired Wound Healing
Slow wound healing after injury or surgery may be a sign of low-level Vitamin D. Results from a test tube study suggests that the vitamin can increase compound production that is crucial for forming new skin. It has also been noted that Vitamin D plays an essential role in controlling inflammation and fighting off infection.
Studies have also revealed that very low levels of Vitamin D are more likely to develop higher levels of inflammatory markers that can reduce the healing process.
There are not enough studies to prove that taking Vitamin D supplements can increase the chances of wound healing.
6. Bone Weakness
Vitamin D plays an important role in absorbing calcium and increasing bone metabolism. Many elderly people diagnosed with bone loss are said to require more calcium. But, they may lack in Vitamin D, too.
Other signs, like low bone mineral density, indicates that calcium and other minerals have resulted in bone weakness. This leads to older people, especially women, to increased fracture risk.
Taking an adequate amount of Vitamin D and maintaining blood levels within the optimal range may be a good method for protecting bone mass and reducing fracture risk.
7. Hair Loss
Hair loss is often indicative of stress. But, when hair loss becomes severe, it may be due to deeper problems like a nutrient deficiency. Women suffering from hair loss often have low Vitamin D levels.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease set apart by severe hair loss from the head and other body parts. It’s often related to rickets, which is a disease-causing soft bone in children due to Vitamin D deficiency.
People who experience Vitamin D deficiency symptoms or have unexplained illness or nutritional deficiencies should check-up for a Vitamin D deficiency. Some other symptoms of a deficiency in Vitamin D include:
- Thinning or brittle bones, osteoporosis, or frequent bone fractures.
- Changes in mood
- Chronic pain
- High or rising blood pressure
- Exhaustion, even with enough sleep
- Decreased endurance levels
- Unexplained infertility
Risks of Vitamin D deficiency:
Depending on your location, your sun exposure may be less, especially during wintertime. This can ultimately lead to low Vitamin D.
This can further cause harm to your mental health, raise your risk to other diseases or conditions. There are some people who are at a higher risk of Vitamin D deficiency:
- Breastfed infants because human milk is considered to be a poor source of Vitamin D. If you are breastfeeding, provide your infant with a supplement of 400 IU of Vitamin D daily.
- Older adults as your skin do not create Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight as well as when you are young. In addition, your kidneys are less able to convert Vitamin D.
- People with dark skin have less ability to produce Vitamin D from the sunlight.
- People with disorders like Crohn’s disease or celiac disease who do not handle fat properly because Vitamin D requires fat to be absorbed.
- Obese people
- People who had gastric bypass surgery
- People with chronic kidney or liver disease
- People with hyperparathyroidism
- People with sarcoidosis, tubercolosis, and hisplasmosis.
- People with some lymphomas, a type of cancer
- People who take medicines that affect Vitamin D metabolism
- Not taking enough fish or milk
- Living in cold weather conditions where there is little sunlight all-year-round
- Using too much sunscreen when going out
- Staying indoors
You may talk with your health care provider if you feel you are at risk of developing Vitamin D deficiency.
Treatment for Vitamin D Deficiency:
There are several conclusions about the right amount of Vitamin D for maintaining good health. An ideal Vitamin D intake can vary between several factors like age, activity levels, and metabolic health.
People should talk to a health care provider about Vitamin D intake amount. It will also be a good idea to keep a note of symptoms when treatment starts. This is an easy method to track your progress and to assess whether it is essential to increase Vitamin D intake.
There are three methods for increasing Vitamin D levels:
- Take Vitamin D supplement- These supplements are readily available over the counter. A health care provider may prescribe a supplement. To increase Vitamin D Deficiency in adult, the recommended dietary requirement is 600 IU. For adults over 70 years, the RDA is 800 IU. For children under 12 months, it is 400 IU.
- Consume foods rich in Vitamin D- Fatty fish like tuna, salmon, and mackerel are excellent natural sources. Other foods containing small quantities of Vitamin D are beef, liver, cheese, and egg yolks. Milk is also packed with Vitamin D so are several kinds of cereal.
- Increase exposure to natural sunlight- The risks of sun exposure may be greater than the risks of Vitamin D deficiency for people sensitive to sunburn or with a history of skin cancer. They should talk to a doctor about whether to spend more time in natural light.
Foods Containing Vitamin D:
There are several foods that contain natural Vitamin D:
- Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
You can also Vitamin D from fortified foods such as:
- Orange juice
- Other dairy products like yoghurt
- Soy drinks
Vitamin D is also available in multivitamin supplements. It is to be taken both in pills and a liquid for infants. You may check with a doctor for the correct dosage and when to take these supplements to prevent Vitamin D deficiency effects.
How to Prevent Vitamin D Deficiency:
Consuming foods rich in Vitamin D and spending 10-20 minutes daily in natural sunlight is the best ways of preventing Vitamin D deficiency. Depending upon Vitamin D intake and a person’s health, Vitamin D supplements can also benefit. It is also best to consult a doctor before starting on a new supplement.
There are other lifestyle strategies that may support healthy Vitamin D levels including:
- Maintaining a healthy body weight. Try going for walks outside to get daily exercise and exposure to sunlight.
- Monitor and treat medical conditions. This can especially apply to those people suffering from gut, kidney, and liver problems.
- Take Vitamin D supplements. This is particularly essential for infants who are being breastfed.
- Talk to a doctor about changes in health. People with a family history of osteoporosis or Vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D deficiency is absolutely common and most people are not aware of it. This is because the symptoms are often subtle and not specific.
If you suspect you have a Vitamin D deficiency, then it’s essential that you talk to your doctor and have your blood levels measured.
Luckily, a Vitamin D deficiency is simple to fix. You can increase your sun exposure, consume more Vitamin D rich foods, or take supplements. Fixing your deficiency is easy and has large benefits for your health.