Shocking Signs of Vitamin D Deficiency - Tips to Get This Right!

Medically reviewed by July 04, 2024| Written by

Shocking Signs of Vitamin D Deficiency - Tips to Get This Right!

Vitamin D arrived on the international stage during the COVID-19 pandemic. Do you remember the headlines? I remember wondering what all the fuss was about, and why we were only then learning how important vitamin D was.

Well, I have since looked into the matter and must admit that vitamin D is indeed crucial to our health. And, if you don't get enough of it, you expose yourself to some pretty serious health consequences.

Let's find out why vitamin D is so important and what happens if you don't get enough of it. 

What is Vitamin D And What is its Function in the Body?

Vitamin D is a nutrient that's essential for life. But it is also a hormone. Hormones help control the function of cells and organs.  It plays a role in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, which are essential for bone and muscle health.

It is a fat-soluble vitamin that we get from food like oily fish, and our bodies also manufacture vitamin D from sunlight. In fact, we get most of our vitamin D from the sun. Food sources of vitamin D are limited.

Tip:You need to be outside to benefit from the sun for your vitamin D needs. Sitting inside with the sun shining on you through the window doesn't help your body to make vitamin D as window glass doesn't allow UVB ultraviolet light through.

Signs of Vitamin D Deficiency

With low vitamin D levels, the body can't absorb calcium and phosphorus, resulting in an increased risk of bone fractures and muscle weakness, as well as bone and muscle pain. Signs of vitamin D deficiency include:

1. Broken Bones and Stress Fractures

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium into the bloodstream. If there is insufficient vitamin D for this function, the body simply takes calcium from your bones. This process is called ‘decalcification’ and it leads to low bone density, which increases the risk of bone fractures. 

Tip: People with muscle or joint pains usually conclude that they have a calcium deficiency and take supplements to increase their calcium levels. Often, the problem is actually a vitamin D deficiency! 

If you are experiencing muscle or joint pain, have some blood tests done to find out what your nutrient levels are, before you start taking supplements.

2. Chronic Pain and Muscle Weakness

A vitamin D deficiency may contribute toosteomalacia, or “bone softening” in adults. The symptoms include muscle pain or weakness and joint or bone pain, most often in the shoulders, pelvis, ribs, and spine.

Research has also shown a link betweenvitamin D deficiency and pain throughout the body. One study found that research participants with widespread nonspecific pain had significantly lower vitamin D levels than the control group.

3. Low Immunity

Vitamin D also plays an important role in immune function. A strong immune system can fight viruses and infections. Multiple research studies have shown that low vitamin D levels compromise the immune system and increase infections.

Low levels of vitamin D can make a person more susceptible to tuberculosis, and infections associated with the flu and colds.

A systematic review and meta-analysis found that Vitamin D supplementation protected againstacute respiratory tract infections.

4. Gastric Infections 

Gastric infections can result from vitamin D deficiency.Research shows that vitamin D deficiency is associated with a greater risk for  H. pylori bacteria infection, which causes a type of gastric infection. 

Research shows that having low vitamin D levels might mean a higher chance of getting H. pylori.

5. Depression

Mood changes, including feelings of depression and hopelessness, can be symptoms of a vitamin D shortage.Multiple studies have found a link between vitamin D deficiency and depression. 

It was found that people most at risk for vitamin D deficiency are older people, adolescents, obese individuals, and people with chronic illnesses. These are also the same people at risk of depression.

Vitamin D deficiency doesn't cause depression, but scientists have observed that people who are depressed tend to have low levels of vitamin D. 

Can Vitamin D Deficiency Be Associated with Other Diseases?

Yes. Vitamin D deficiency is found to be associated with several serious diseases. So, you won't want this vitamin to be missing from your diet.

1. Cancer

Vitamin D deficiency is linked to increased death rates from cancer.A study published in the European Journal of Cancer analyzed data from 411,436 people in the UK Biobank. The findings showed that 34.4% of the people had insufficient vitamin D, and 21.1% were deficient. Deficiency increases the risk of death from stomach, colorectal, lung, and prostate cancer.

The good news is that people who took vitamin supplements lowered their risk of death from cancer. 

2. Cardiovascular Disease

Several studies have found that vitamin D deficiency affects heart health. Astudy from Copenhagen revealed that compared to optimal levels, low levels of vitamin D are associated with a 40% increased risk of ischemic heart disease, a 64% higher risk of heart attack, a 57% higher risk of early death, and an 81% higher risk of death from heart disease.

 Another study published in the European Heart Journal found that vitamin D deficiency canincrease blood pressure and the risk of heart disease.

Scientists admit that the research on the link between low vitamin D levels and heart disease has producedmixed results

3. Early Onset Dementia

Early onset dementia is when symptoms of dementia develop before the age of 65. Scientists used to think that the cause of dementia is genetic but recent research has challenged this notion.

A new study published inJAMA Neurology that assessed more than 350,000 people under 65 in the UK, pinpointed vitamin D deficiency as one of 15 risk factors for early onset of dementia. 

The study was hailed as a major breakthrough in scientific efforts to understand the underlying causes of this debilitating and far-reaching condition.

4. Rickets

Do you want to know what the most shocking and catastrophic result of vitamin D deficiency is?

It is the deformed bodies of children who develop rickets as a result of malnutrition. Rickets is a serious childhood disease where a child’s bones are too soft due to improper calcification. The result is bones that don't form properly and break easily. The legs tend to be deformed and the person tends to waddle when walking. 

Rickets have a lifelong debilitating effect on a person's life. 

Is Vitamin D Deficiency Common? 

Vitamin D deficiency is a common problem throughout the world. Around 1 billion people worldwide have this deficiency.

We get vitamin D from some of the foods we eat and through ultraviolet sun exposure over time. So, the most obvious causes of vitamin D deficiency are a lack of it in your diet and too little time spent in the sun. 

People who live in the northern hemisphere don't always have enough exposure to the sun, which poses a risk of vitamin D deficiency. 

Additional Factors That Contribute to Low Levels of Vitamin D

  • A diet devoid of milk, eggs, and fish, such as a vegan diet.
  • Malnutrition, or a poor diet. 
  • A darker skin. 
  • Gastric bypass surgery for weight loss. With this surgery, part of the small intestine that connects to the stomach is removed – this is where all nutrients, including vitamin D, are absorbed.
  • Health conditions that prevent the normal digestion and absorption of fat by the gut, such as inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, or celiac disease. 
  • Kidney or liver failure, so the body can't process food properly.
  • Excess body weight and obesity.
  • Certain medications, such as some blood pressure and anti-seizure medicines.

Effective Tips to Raise Your Vitamin D Levels

1. Increasing Vitamin D through Food

There are few food sources of vitamin D. Fatty fish, such as Salmon, mackerel, sardines, and herring, and, seafood, such as oysters and shrimp are the best sources of vitamin D. If you regularly eat these foods, a deficiency in vitamin D levels is highly unlikely.

Another good source of vitamin D is beef liver. 

Eggs, particularly the yolks, are an excellent source of vitamin D. When you buy eggs, choose free-range or pasture-raised eggs to benefit from the higher levels of vitamin D from the chickens that roamed in the sunlight.

The only noteworthy plant source of vitamin D is mushrooms. Mushrooms synthesize vitamin D2 when exposed to sunlight or ultra-violet light indoors. Only mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light will contain vitamin D. 

Since so few food sources contain vitamin D, many commercial foods are fortified with vitamin D to ensure that everyone gets enough vitamin D. Examples of fortified foods include milk, and plant-based milk like almond milk, orange juice, and cereals.

2. Get Some Sun on Your Skin

If you spend most of your time indoors, it's time to get outside. It's the most natural way to increase your levels of this important nutrient – the sun does it all for you. The sun's UVB rays help the body to convert the cholesterol in your skin cells into vitamin D.

The time you need in the sun depends on your geological location, the season, the time of day, and your skin type. On a very hot summer's day, a fair-skinned person needn't and shouldn't stay in the sun for longer than ten minutes. Dark-skinned individuals need longer time in the sun to produce adequate levels of vitamin D. Always beware of overexposure to avoid skin cancer.

3. Vitamin D Through Lifestyle Changes

In addition to regularly eating food containing vitamin D and spending some time in the sun, you can incorporate the following steps to up your vitamin D levels.

a. Lose Weight If You Carry Too Much Weight

Overweight and obese people may have low vitamin D levels. One of the reasons is that vitamin D is fat-soluble, causing the vitamin to be tightly bound in fatty tissues and become unavailable to the rest of the body. Other factors may be poor absorption and insufficient vitamin D in the diet.

Also, overweight and obese individuals may need more vitamin D to have high enough levels in their bloodstream.

b. Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine to Support Your Liver

A fully functioning liver is needed to activate the vitamin D in food. Drinking too much alcohol, coffee, and tea can inhibit the liver’s ability to perform this function effectively. 

c. Use a Portable UV Tanning lamp

A UV lamp emits ultraviolet radiation similar to sunlight and thus helps the body to produce vitamin D3. These lamps are useful during the winter months when natural sunlight is weak or absent.

Scientists have evenstudied the use of UV lamps for the use of cystic fibrosis and short bowel syndrome (SBS) patients who are unable to absorb vitamin D from their diets. 

Remember not to spend too much time under the lamp. It’s because UV rays can damage the skin and cause cancer.

4. Vitamin D through Supplements

Vitamin D supplements are an effective way to ensure you have adequate levels. Both D2 and D3 are available in supplements, with D3 considered more effective in improving vitamin D levels.

FAQs

1. What is a Normal Vitamin D level?

Levels of 50 nmol/L (20 ng/mL) or above are adequate to support the bone and general health of most adults. Levels below 30 nmol/L (12 ng/mL) are too low and can't support bone health. 

2. Can low vitamin D cause weight gain?

Overweight people tend to have low vitamin D levels, but this does not mean low levels cause weight gain. Current studies don't support this idea. 

3. Are Vitamin D Supplements Safe?

As long as you take vitamin D supplements according to the suggested doses they are safe. Taking more than the suggested doses can be harmful, causing toxicity and symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and weakness. Again, it is recommended to take vitamin D3. 

Conclusion

Don't doubt for a moment that vitamin D is essential for your health. The nutrient supports bone and muscle health by enabling calcium absorption and bone mineralization. It supports the immune system, helping to fight infections and viruses. It also plays a role in lowering the risk of serious illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. 

And, the latest research indicates that vitamin D may play a role in early-onset dementia. All the more reason to take your daily vitamin D supplement since incidences of dementia are increasing worldwide.