If you avoid the sun, if you suffer from dairy allergies, or if you eat a vegan diet, there is a chance that you are also suffering from vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is known as ‘the sunshine vitamin’ because our body produces it when it is exposed to UVB radiation. It is also found naturally in some foods (egg yolks, fish liver oils, fish) and many grain and dairy products are fortified with vitamin D.
You need this vitamin for strong bones, as it helps in the use of the calcium that you consume. In fact, without vitamin D, you could eat a kilo of calcium a day without noticing any effects! We know that vitamin D deficiency can cause rickets, which is a disease most common in children, whereby their bone tissue doesn’t mineralize properly. This leads to skeletal deformities and soft bones. In addition, we now know that a myriad of other health problems are also associated with this deficiency.
Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency
A number of symptoms are commonly associated with vitamin D deficiency. However, a lot of people find that these symptoms are so subtle that they don’t even notice them. Unfortunately, even with subtle symptoms, the health risks are very significant. Some of these risks include:
• Risk of heart problems
• Cognitive issues, particularly in the elderly
• Severe asthma, particularly in children
• Diabetes (type 1 and type 2)
• Glucose intolerance
• Multiple sclerosis
How Vitamin D Deficiency Can Affect Our Health
A number of health conditions, as stated above, are associated with a vitamin D deficiency. More specifically:
• Various forms of cardiovascular disease are associated with a vitamin D deficiency. These include strokes, heart failure, myocardial infarction, coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular disease, hyperlipidemia, and hypertension. It is believed that this is because vitamin D has anti-inflammatory effects, although more research have to be conducted into this.
• Different infections, but particularly respiratory infections during eth winter months. A number of studies have now shown that a low vitamin D level can lead to respiratory infections of both the lower and upper tract. There is also a suggestion that it plays a role in hospital-acquired infections, most notably urinary tract infections, bacteremias, and pneumonia.
• Depression, which is something that has been known for 2,000 years. Vitamin D regulates dopamine, noradrenaline and adrenaline, all of which play a role in our moods. Furthermore, they protect the brain from experiencing dopamine and serotonin depletion. Scientific studies into this have only just started, but it is already known that there is an 8% to 14% increased chance of developing depression if you have a vitamin D deficiency. More worrying is the fact that there is also an increase in the chance of suicide, with suicidal people regularly having lower levels of vitamin D and feeling better after taking supplements.
• Multiple sclerosis, which is a particularly interesting area of study. It is now understood that multiple sclerosis prevention starts with the pregnant mothers. Those who have multiple sclerosis are more likely to be conceived during times when sunlight is at its lowest level.
• Tuberculosis, which was a true killer disease not too long ago. People often think it doesn’t exist anymore, but that is not the case. Now, just like then, it is most common in people who do not experience much sunlight. By supplementing, they often have a much better prognosis.
• Type 2 diabetes, as it has been shown that people with higher levels of vitamin D have a 43% smaller chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
• Inflammation, because vitamin D is a known anti-inflammatory as it decreases C-reactive protein in the body.
• Chances of allergies in adults and children alike, which has been scientifically proven to be a significant issue with vitamin D deficiency.
• Sleep apneas, which are common in people who are obese (also associated with vitamin D deficiency). It is believed that the link between apneas and vitamin D deficiency is in tonsillar hypertrophy and/or inflammatory rhinitis. However, only very small pieces of research have been done in regards to this.
• Dental cavities, because people who have vitamin D deficiency often have less calcium in their body to protect their teeth.
• Erectile dysfunction, although it is not quite clearly yet what causes what in this case. Most men with erectile dysfunction also have cardiovascular disease, or are diagnosed with it within a short period of time. It is known that vitamin D and cardiovascular disease are linked, so it could also be linked to erectile dysfunction.
What Causes Vitamin D Deficiency?
There are a number of reasons why someone could have a vitamin D deficiency. The table below explains this in greater detail.
|Reason||Why It Matters|
|Low levels of vitamin D consumption||This is common in those who are vegan, as the majority of natural vitamin D sources are animal based (beef liver, fortified milk, cheese, egg yolk, fish oils, fish).|
|Limited exposure to the rays of the sun||The body creates vitamin D when it is exposed to natural UVB rays. If you are homebound, if you wear head to toe coverings or if you spend a lot of time inside for any other reason, you may develop a deficiency.|
|Having dark skin||African Americans, South East Asians and Afro-Caribbean people who live in this country have a high risk of developing a deficiency because they require more sunlight exposure than lighter skinned people.|
|Kidney problems||It is possible that you have a medical condition that stops your kidneys from converting vitamin D in order for it to be used in the body. The older you get, the more likely this will be.|
|Digestive problems||Various digestive issues exist that make it near enough impossible for the body to absorb vitamin D. Some of the digestive issues include celiac disease, cystic fibrosis and Crohn’s disease.|
|Obesity||People who suffer from obesity are also more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency. This is due to a number of factors, including body shaming, which means people cover up or even stay indoors.|
Vitamin D Deficiency Tests
The 25-hydroxy blood test is generally accepted to be the most accurate test to determine whether or not someone suffers from vitamin D deficiency. A person is expected to score between 20 and 50 nanograms per milliliter on this test. If the level is below 12 nanograms per milliliter, a deficiency is present.
Vitamin D Deficiency Treatment
There are just a few guidelines for intake of vitamin D. These are usually measured in either RDA (recommended daily allowance) or AI (adequate intake). The RDA is most commonly used, as it can apply to between 97% and 98% of the population. Those who suffer from vitamin D deficiency must make sure that they meet the guidelines.
Inevitably, this means consuming more vitamin D, generally by taking supplements and by changing the diet. However, it is not yet known what the absolute optimum level is when it comes to vitamin D, which makes it difficult to prescribe the right amounts. If you are diagnosed with a deficiency, it is very important to follow the medical advice you are given to treat it, rather than to try and self-diagnose and treat the issue.
Resources and References:
The Truth About Vitamin D – Overview about Vitamin D. (WebMD)
Am I Deficient in Vitamin D? – Determining if you are deficient in Vitamin D. (VitaminDCouncil.org)
7 Signs You May Have a Vitamin D Deficiency – Indicators of vitamin D deficiency. (Mercola.com)
Effects of Vitamin D Deficiency – Health effects of vitamin D deficiency. (Healthline.com)