Vitamin D (calciferol or sunshine vitamin) is one of the most essential nutrients your body needs. And it’s easy to see why.
It is essential for numerous vital functions like bone mineralization, boosting your immune system, and potentially many other functions.
Research has directly complicated calciferol deficiency in many life-threatening conditions and shown a strong correlation with others.
Some vitamin D deficiency symptoms include hair loss, fatigue, muscle weakness or pain, poor sleep quality, osteopenia or osteoporosis, rickets in children, osteomalacia in adults, and depression and mood disorders.
In this article, we explore the effects of vitamin D deficiency on the body. We also discuss vitamin D deficiency risk factors, symptoms, and more.
Is vitamin D deficiency common?
Vitamin D deficiency is more common than you'd expect, especially since the sun is the primary source. Some sources estimate that about 1 billion people in the world are vitamin D deficient.
In the United States, the numbers are equally grim. About 92 million out of 260.8 million adults in the United States are deficient in the sunshine vitamin. Within the 1-5 age group, the number stands at 50% and 70% in children aged 6-11.
It's important to note that some ethnic groups are more at risk than others. Calciferol deficiency is significantly more prevalent amongst African Americans than any other group.
Approximately 75% of African American adults have vitamin D blood levels below 50 nmol/L or 20 ng/ml. Only 20% of White adults in the United States have similar vitamin D blood levels.
What are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency?
Vitamin deficiency can sometimes be hard to pinpoint before it becomes more serious. According to Yale Medicine, you may not even know you’re calciferol deficient until it’s too late.
Here are some of the common symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency:
1. Rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults
At this stage, you can say a prolonged existence of severe vitamin D deficiency has led to a disease. At this point, a lack of sunshine vitamin has prevented the child or adult from absorbing the calcium they need to build and mineralize strong bones.
Children exclusively breastfed are more likely to develop rickets because they depend solely on their mother’s vitamin D levels. If it’s low, then they’re at risk. That’s why all manufactured baby milk is fortified with calciferol.
2. Osteopenia or osteoporosis
Osteopenia is a medical condition where your bones have depleted mineral levels. As such, the concentration or density of minerals is lower than it should be for your age. This situation makes your bones weak.
Osteoporosis develops when the weakness reaches a point where your bones are potentially fractured by a slight or minor force that wouldn't occur if you had a regular bone mineral density.
Prolonged and untreated osteopenia leads to osteoporosis. Vitamin D deficiency puts you at risk of developing osteopenia and bone pain.
3. Muscle weakness or pain
According to this article, vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency are strongly associated with poor muscle health.
Another research study found a strong link between adults with musculoskeletal pain and vitamin D deficiency. Per the study, 100% of the 150 participants with persistent, nonspecific musculoskeletal pain had low vitamin D levels (</=20 ng/mL).
4. Poor sleep hygiene
A review of nine studies involving 9,397 participants found that vitamin D deficiency was a risk factor for poor sleep quality, short sleep duration, and sleepiness.
In particular, having a blood concentration of vitamin D (25(OH)D) less than 20 ng/mL could significantly impair sleep quality.
5. Depression and mood disorders
One study found a higher prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in depressed subjects than in healthy participants.
An analysis of 14 studies with 31,424 participants concluded that the review aligned with the theory that calciferol concentration is strongly correlated with depression. However, the researchers confirmed that this relationship has not been established as casual and only correlation.
Per another review, 9 out of 14 studies (over 64%) noted a strong link between low vitamin D levels and the incidence of postpartum depression and sleep disorders.
6. Hair loss
Vitamin D deficiency may also be culpable if you’re losing your hair. Calciferol plays a critical role in the hair cycle, especially in creating new follicles for hair to grow. So, it’s easy to draw a straight line between hair loss and vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D deficiency is also negatively associated with ailments that cause hair loss. Some of these conditions include scarring alopecia and other non-scarring alopecias.
A study of 572 patients who reported musculoskeletal pain, headache, or fatigue to their doctors found a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency.
Other studies have also examined if vitamin D supplementation affects fatigue. One such study found that taking vitamin D supplements “significantly improved fatigue in otherwise healthy persons with vitamin D deficiency.”
Other potential symptoms that you may have low levels of vitamin D include:
- Poor wound healing
- Loss of appetite
- Regular recurring illness or infections
- Pale skin
- Weight gain
What are the causes of vitamin D deficiency?
The major causes of vitamin D deficiency are:
The foods that contain vitamin D are few and far between and are not generally what you find on most people’s everyday plates. We’ll talk more about sources of vitamin D later.
Additionally, people who don’t get enough vitamin D from their meals also do not take vitamin D-fortified food like milk, orange juice, and cereals.
According to the National Institutes of Health, fortified foods have been the major source of vitamin D in the United States.
Low sun exposure
Your skin is capable of producing vitamin D from exposure to the sun. Unfortunately, most people do not get enough sunshine for different reasons like old age, work or school schedule, religious and cultural norms, immobility, and more.
And even those who do are limited by certain factors, like their ethnicity, location, time of the day, and duration of exposure (more on these factors later).
What are the health conditions that can cause vitamin D deficiency?
Aside from poor nutrition and inadequate sun exposure, certain health conditions may lead to a vitamin D deficiency. Some of these health conditions include:
Kidney and liver disease
The kidney and liver help produce the active form (calcitriol) of vitamin D the body can use. They convert vitamin D to 25(OH)D. So, chronic kidney disease or failure can affect the body’s ability to convert vitamin D and lead to severe low vitamin D levels.
Diseases affecting the gut
Conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, Crohn's disease, and cystic fibrosis çan impair how much vitamin D your intestines absorb. This could potentially lead to low levels of vitamin D.
Vitamin D is fat-soluble. Obese people are more predisposed to having vitamin D deficiency because the vitamin D the body needs is stuck in fat tissues and cells.
Are there Medications that can cause vitamin D deficiency?
Medications that deplete vitamin D levels include:
- Steroids (prednisone)
- Seizure-limiting medications (barbiturates and hydantoin derivatives)
- Antibiotics (antituberculosis agents)
- Laxatives (lubricant laxatives)
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs (cholestyramine and colestipol)
- Cancer medications (taxol)
- Ulcer medications (H2 blockers)
- Anti-inflammatory drugs (topical corticosteroids)
These medications either affect how the body breaks down vitamin D to its active form or absorb it in the digestive tract.
How is the deficiency of vitamin D diagnosed?
Vitamin D is diagnosed via a blood test. The doctor can also order an x-ray of the wrists and/or knees in cases where the adult or child is suspected to have rickets or osteomalacia.
Doctors often only request a test if they suspect a vitamin D deficiency due to any of the following:
- The patient is presenting with one or more risk factors.
- The patient has certain diseases.
- Individuals who barely get enough sunlight.
- Children with signs and symptoms of rickets.
- Older adults with low bone mineral density.
After the blood test, your blood levels will be classified as one of the following:
- Vitamin D sufficient: Serum concentration greater than or equal to 20 ng/mL (50 nmol/L)
- Vitamin D insufficient: Serum concentration from 12 to 20 ng/mL (30 to 50 nmol/L)
- Vitamin D deficient: Serum concentration less than 12 ng/mL (30 nmol/L)
Who has a higher risk for vitamin D deficiency?
The following populations or groups have an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency:
Those with dark skins
Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), White adults in the United States have higher blood levels of vitamin D than Mexican Americans. Mexican Americans, however, have higher blood concentrations of vitamin D than African Americans.
The primary reason for this is that more melanin in the epidermal layer of the skin weakens the body’s ability to make vitamin D from the sun. This puts African Americans and Blacks, in general, at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Exclusively breastfed babies
Breast milk contains very little vitamin D. That's why children exclusively breastfed and not on any vitamin D supplement may develop vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D3 liquid drops supplement fortified with vitamin K2 by WhyNotNatural is perfect for babies on exclusive breastfeeding.
Obesity is a serious risk factor for vitamin D deficiency. Excess fat tissues can trap vitamin D and prevent the body from accessing the nutrients when needed. This is because vitamin D is fat-soluble.
Our ability to make vitamin D from sun exposure wanes as we grow older. That’s why experts at the Institute of Medicine recommend that older adults over 70 consume 200 IU more of vitamin D daily than regular adults.
Also, older adults above 70 years are more likely to be immobile, which means they’re unlikely to go under the sun and get adequate exposure to sunlight.
Location and lifestyle
Residents of places in high altitudes are at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency.
A study of sunlight exposure found that an individual in Miami and Boston must spend three minutes and 23 minutes, respectively, under the sun to provide the amount of vitamin D sufficient for that day.
Additionally, lifestyle choices can affect how much vitamin D you get from the sun. These choices include how much of your body is covered and sunscreen usage. Sunscreen may decrease vitamin D production by up to 90%.
Gastric bypass surgery
During gastric bypass surgery, surgeons remove the upper part of the small intestine. This region is the primary area where the active form of vitamin D is absorbed into the bloodstream.
As such, undergoing a procedure that removes this vital part puts that individual at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency.
What are the potential complications of vitamin D deficiency?
One of the major problems of vitamin D deficiency is that the symptoms don't manifest early.
When you start experiencing deficiency symptoms, you've probably had low vitamin D levels for a long time.
As such, complications such as low calcium and phosphorous levels may lead to bone demineralization. Other complications include rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults.
Most of these conditions are treatable with vitamin D supplementation. However, the key is catching and treating it early before it leads to long-term damage.
Can low vitamin D levels make you tired?
Vitamin D deficiency can make you fatigued. Many research studies have established a strong correlation between vitamin D deficiency and tiredness.
In one study, 77.2% of 174 patients who visited the hospital and complained of tiredness had low vitamin D levels.
Another study found that vitamin D levels were directly associated with the absence of fatigue.
How to treat Vitamin D deficiency
Doctors treat calciferol deficiency by prescribing vitamin D dietary supplements. The dose depends on how low the vitamin D levels are.
The main strategy is to prescribe a heavy “loading dose” upfront before switching to maintenance dosing when vitamin D levels have reached optimal levels.
The loading dose can be between 25,000-50,000 IU of vitamin D once weekly for 2-3 months. The maintenance dose is usually in the range of 800 to 2000 IU or more per day.
When should I see my doctor about vitamin D deficiency?
Check yourself against the symptoms and risk factors we shared above, and speak to your doctor immediately if you match any of these elements. In particular, you should pay more attention if you have muscle or bone pain and are constantly fatigued.
Doctors are more likely to recommend a blood test if you have a high risk of vitamin D deficiency.
How can I avoid vitamin D deficiency?
You can avoid vitamin D deficiency by ensuring your diet contains food rich in vitamin D, like fatty fish and fortified milk, getting adequate time under the sun at noon, and taking vitamin D supplements.
How much vitamin D does our body need?
There are several thoughts on how much vitamin D the human body needs. The Institute of Medicine says 600 IU of vitamin D per day is adequate. The Endocrine Society, however, recommends 1,500-2,000 IU of vitamin D daily.
What are the sources of vitamin D?
The sun is the primary source of vitamin D. The best Vitamin D food sources include fatty fish and fish liver oils.
Other food sources with natural vitamin D include egg yolks, some mushrooms, and beef liver. Fortified foods like cereals, milk, and orange juice are also great sources.
Is vitamin D supplement safe?
Vitamin D supplements are safe so far you stay within the tolerable upper intake level. This research article suggests the safe upper intake should be 10,000 IU daily.
The article also noted that intake of 30,000 IU vitamin D doses for an extended period did not lead to toxic vitamin D levels(200 ng/ml).
It is important to get one with no preservatives, fillers, sugar, or artificial additives, such as the Why Not Natural Vitamin D3 supplement.
How can I increase my vitamin D level quickly?
The best way to increase vitamin D levels quickly is by taking dietary supplements. However, how quickly supplements work will depend on factors like getting vitamin D from other sources and how low your levels are.
How long will it take for my vitamin D levels to return to normal?
It may take up to three months for your vitamin D levels to return to normal.
According to one study, participants who checked their vitamin D levels after four weeks showed no significant increase in 25(OH)D.
Conversely, the highest change in vitamin D levels was recorded between the third and ninth months.
Can you ever have an excess of vitamin D?
Too much vitamin D may lead to toxic calciferol levels, which causes your body to absorb more calcium than necessary. This leads to the accumulation of calcium in soft tissues and potentially blocked arteries. Other potential issues with excess vitamin D include loss of appetite, heightened thirst, nausea, and weight loss.
What are the health benefits of Vitamin D?
Some vitamin D health benefits include:
- Vitamin D promotes healthy bones and muscles
- Vitamin D may reduce cancer risks
- Vitamin D may reduce the risk of seasonal flu and other infections
- Vitamin D promotes a healthy heart
- Vitamin D helps maintain cognitive ability
- Vitamin D promotes a healthy mood and good sleep
- Vitamin D may help with weight loss
- Vitamin D helps prevent type 2 diabetes
- Vitamin D boosts good oral health
- Vitamin D may help prevent acne
- Vitamin D regulates your innate immunity
Takeaway: Avoiding vitamin D deficiency is very important for healthy living
Vitamin D deficiency poses far-reaching risks for your health, like weak bones, fatigue, mood disorders, and much more. The more dangerous fact is that you won’t observe these symptoms till it’s too late.
You can protect yourself by ensuring you consume meals with high vitamin D nutrients, spend quality time under the sun, and use vitamin supplements to complement your efforts.
Whether you want to maintain your vitamin D levels or treat vitamin D deficiency, the Why Not Natural vitamin D supplement is your best bet.Our vitamin D supplements are vegan-friendly, natural, highly concentrated, and contain no preservatives, fillers, sugar, or artificial additives. Shop our vitamin D supplements today for yourself or your baby.