Vitamin D deficiency is a very common problem that initially it does not cause any characteristic symptoms.
Normally vitamin D deficiency is suspected when the lack of this vitamin is very high, which happens after a long time with this condition and when certain signs and symptoms start to appear, such as:
- Delayed growth in children;
- Bowlegs in children;
- Enlargement of the extremities of the leg and arm bones;
- Delay in the appearance of baby teeth and tooth decay from early on;
- Osteomalacia or osteoporosis in adults;
- Bone weakness, which makes them more breakable, especially the back, hip and leg bones;
- Muscle aches;
- Feeling fatigued, weak and unwell;
- Bone pain;
- Muscle spasms.
Vitamin D deficiency is caused by any of the following: insufficient sun exposure, darker skin tones, age (people over the age of 50 are more at risk), low intake of vitamin D rich foods, and living in cold countries, where the skin is rarely exposed to the sun.
People who have fair skin need around 20 minutes of sun exposure a day, while people with darker skin need at least one hour of direct sunlight, without sunscreen early morning or late afternoon.
How to confirm vitamin D deficiency
A doctor may suspect you have a vitamin D deficiency if you do not get enough sun exposure, always use sunscreen, and do not ingest vitamin D rich foods. In elderly people, vitamin D deficiency may be suspected in cases of osteopenia or osteoporosis.
The diagnosis is done through a blood test called 25-hydroxyvitamin D, and the reference amounts are:
- Less than 20 ng/ml - serious deficiency
- Between 21 and 29 ng/ml - slight deficiency
- From 30 ng/ml - adequate level
This blood test can be requested from a GP or pediatrician, who can assess your need for a vitamin D supplement.
When to have a vitamin D supplements
The doctor may recommend you take vitamin D2 and D3 supplements if you live somewhere with low sun exposure and where vitamin D rich foods are not as accessible to the population. Pregnant women and babies under the age of one will be required to have a vitamin D supplement if a vitamin D deficiency has been confirmed.
Supplementing in case of deficiency should be done for 1 or 2 months, and after that time the doctor may request a new blood test to assess whether the supplement needs to be taken for longer. This is because excessive consumption of vitamin D is dangerous, as it may increase blood calcium levels excessively, which can also cause bone loss.
Chief causes of vitamin D deficiency
Lack of vitamin D can happen due to low intake of food that contains vitamin D, lack of proper sun exposure, because of excessive use of sunscreen, and tanned or dark skin. However, there are also certain conditions that may be linked to lack of vitamin D:
- Chronic kidney disease ;
- Celiac disease;
- Crohn’s disease;
- Short bowel syndrome;
- Cystic fibrosis;
- Cardiac insufficiency;
- Bladder stones
So, if you have any of these diseases, you should be under doctor supervision to check your vitamin D levels through specific blood tests and if necessary take vitamin D supplements.
Important sources of vitamin D
Vitamin D can be obtained from food sources, such as salmon, oysters, eggs, sardines, and through the body’s internal production which is activated when the skin is exposed to the sun. See a list of 16 foods that are high in vitamin D.
People with vitamin D deficiency are at a greater risk of developing diseases such as diabetes and obesity and therefore need to increase sun exposure or take vitamin D supplements under doctor supervision.
Consequences of vitamin D deficiency
Lack of vitamin D increases the risk of developing serious diseases that affect bones such as rickets and osteoporosis, but it also increases the risk of developing other diseases, such as:
High blood pressure;
Sun exposure is important to prevent vitamin D deficiency because only 20% of the body’s daily need for this vitamin is achieved through diet. Adults and children with fair skin need 20 minutes of sun exposure to produce this vitamin, while darker-skinned people need about an hour of sun exposure.