There are several nutrients that are necessary for the proper functioning of the human body. Among those, vitamins A, B, C, D, and E are most crucial. And while a deficiency of any of those vitamins will cause a wide range of side effects, vitamin D deficiency is typically the best known and perhaps the most dangerous. More alarming is the fact that, according to recent studies, about 40% of all Americans are vitamin D deficient.
The potential health problems that could stem from a vitamin D deficiency are serious, not to mention potentially life-threatening. So far, a shortage of vitamin D in the body has been shown to result in things like osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and pregnancy complications. Interestingly, those symptoms can occur even if the deficiency is short-term.
Prevention begins with a basic understanding of the importance of vitamin D followed by a keen grasp on the symptoms of a deficiency. Once you know how vitamin D affects your health you can more easily determine if there’s a shortage in your body. If you or someone you love is suffering from the symptoms mentioned below, be sure to contact a healthcare professional right away.
What Is Vitamin D and What Does It Do for the Body?
Sometimes referred to as “the sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is actually not a vitamin at all. It is, instead, a pro-hormone. Unlike the other vitamins mentioned above, vitamin D behaves like a hormone in that every cell in the body possesses a receptor for it. This essential substance is produced by the human body in response to exposure to sunlight.
Commonly found in modern-day foods and dietary supplements, ample amounts of vitamin D in the body can do the following when combined with adequate amounts of sun exposure:
- Help maintain the strength and health of bones and teeth
- Support the forte of the immune system
- Promote proper brain and nervous system function
- Naturally regulate blood sugar levels (ideal for diabetes management)
- Aid in lung functionality
- Sustain and/or improve cardiovascular health
- Influence gene expressions (namely those involved in cancer development)
With enough sunlight exposure to the bare skin, a healthy body can produce enough vitamin D to prevent a deficiency or the symptoms thereof. Although every person is different, the general consensus agrees that 5 to 10 minutes of sun exposure 2 to 3 times per week should be enough for most adults. Talk to your doctor for individual recommendations, especially when dealing with children, elders, pregnant women and/or those who are taking prescription medication.
What Are the Risk Factors for Vitamin D Deficiency?
Step one towards preventing a vitamin D deficiency is to know the risk factors. First and foremost, you must understand that certain foods contain vitamin D (namely fortified dairy and fatty fish products). However, those dietary sources are not always enough to avoid a shortage. As a result, vitamin D deficiencies are extremely common, even in the developed world.
Unfortunately, some people are at a naturally higher risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency due to one or more of the following factors:
- Having dark toned skin
- Being of advanced age
- Suffering from obesity
- Living in areas with very little sunlight year-round
- Staying inside too much
- Always applying sunscreen
- Not getting enough fish or dairy in your diet
It’s important to note that many people don’t realize that they are vitamin D deficient. That’s because the symptoms can be very subtle. So, while you may not recognize a problem right away, the long-term effects of a vitamin D deficiency can drastically decrease the quality of your life.
The Top 10 Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms
Understand that vitamin D breaks down extremely quickly in the body. This means that stores of it can run low, especially during the colder months when sunlight is at a premium and people tend to stay inside more. And while some of the symptoms mentioned below are minimally disruptive, it’s still important to keep you eye on them so they don’t turn into something more serious.
To make it easier, review the following 10 symptoms that are most common among those experiencing a vitamin D deficiency:
- Muscle Weakness
Widespread weakness in the muscles is one of the first signs of a vitamin D deficiency. However, it is sometimes confused for generalized fatigue (another symptom of a shortage of vitamin D in the blood). While the two often go hand-in hand, they are not the same. Muscle weakness is categorized as a reduction in strength and/or endurance and can be reversed with the proper techniques and nutrition.
Although sweating can be a sign of many things, it can also be one of the earliest signs of a vitamin D deficiency. This is especially true if the sweat is coming from the head instead of from other parts of the body. Excessive sweating occurs alongside a vitamin D deficiency because of the body’s response to its reduced regulation of bodily fluids. As one of the first signs of rickets, head sweat should be monitored closely to prevent more serious health concerns.
As it turns out, a shortage of vitamin D in the body can cause a person to experience the symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. According to a recent study, vitamin D is essential to the brain’s ability to produce the neurotransmitters that make serotonin – a hormone that’s directly responsible for a person’s mood. When the blood lacks serotonin the brain lacks positivity, sometimes leading to inexplicable bouts of depression and a loss of interest in the things you love.
Did you know that research has shown a correlation between vitamin D levels and fertility? According to the latest published data, a prolonged vitamin D deficiency can contribute to the development of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) – one of the foremost causes of female infertility. Look for the presence of acanthosis nigricans, or dark, velvet-like spots on the skin, as this is a primary sign of PCOS and vitamin D deficiency-related infertility.
- Bone Pain
Bone pain related to a vitamin D deficiency is especially concerning for an adult whose bones have stopped growing. But regardless of that lack of growth, bone tissues are constantly replenishing themselves, meaning they need a continual supply of nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D. With proper nutrition, your bones could begin to deteriorate, leading to bone pain, osteomalacia (adult rickets) and eventual osteoporosis.
- Chronic Infections
A vitamin D deficiency can weaken more than your muscles. It may actually decrease the resilience of your immune system, resulting in chronic infections and avoidable sicknesses. With more than 2,000 genes in the human body, it’s no wonder that “the sunshine vitamin” plays such a massive role in a person’s overall health. To prevent infections and improve your endurance against invading bacteria and viruses, consume the right foods and go outside at least once per day.
Often confused with muscle weakness, fatigue is more like a generalized tiredness that doesn’t go away after adequate amounts of sleep. It’s often experienced as daytime drowsiness or a complete lack of motivation. So, while you may have incredible intentions, your body’s depleted vitamin D reserves can make it difficult to accomplish goals and complete daily tasks. If you’re resting enough but still feel sleepy, you may have a vitamin D deficiency without knowing it.
- Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
A review of health studies across several cohorts was conducted at Harvard University, rendering alarming results which put vitamin D deficiencies on a higher tier of importance. According to the data, inadequate amounts of vitamin D in the blood stream can increase a person’s risk of serious health problems, including hypertension and cardiovascular disease. It should be noted, as well, that increased blood pressure may lead to a heart attack or stroke.
- Irritability (Mood Swings)
Before it ever causes full-blown depression, a vitamin D deficiency can lead to generalized irritability and unpredictable mood swings. As mentioned, this nutrient helps the brain’s neurotransmitters produce mood-stabilizing serotonin. Without enough of it, your disposition may start to short-circuit out of control, causing you to lash out irrationally at the slightest provocation. For many, this symptom can be eliminated with a little fresh air and sunshine.
- Respiratory Illness
Studies suggest that ample amounts of vitamin D and enough supporting sun exposure can drastically reduce a person’s risk of developing respiratory illnesses. This is especially true among children and/or those who suffer from asthma or allergies. Any shortness of breath, pains in the chest, chronic coughing or sore throats should be watched closely. A prolonged lack of oxygen to vital body parts as a result of a respiratory infection or illness can lead to serious health problems.
If you or someone you know is suffering from one or more of the symptoms mentioned above, it’s important to make dietary and lifestyle changes as soon as possible. Do not panic, however, if you’re experiencing hypertension, respiratory problems, chronic infections or bone pain. Although those symptoms are more serious than the others, they can still be treated by a doctor or holistic practitioner.
5 Interesting Facts about Vitamin D Deficiencies
Fortunately, vitamin D deficiencies are so commonplace that numerous treatment options are now available, many without need for a prescription and some without need for any medical attention at all. Keep in mind, however, that each case is different and each symptom presents itself in a unique way for every person.
Although experiencing a vitamin D deficiency is common it isn’t fun. Still, it may be comforting to know the following facts:
- It’s estimated that more than a billion people worldwide suffer from some level of a vitamin D deficiency.
- More than 40% of all adults in North America are deficient.
- A study published in 2011 showed that certain races
are at a higher risk of developing a deficiency of vitamin D.
- More than 62% of American Hispanics are low on vitamin D.
- And over 82% of African Americans are vitamin D deficient as well.
- A vitamin D deficiency can be treated and cured with the right diet and lifestyle changes.
- At this time, there is no food or dietary supplement that can provide the body with enough activated vitamin D because its synthesis requires sun exposure.
Why It Matters
Something as simple as a shortage of a particular vitamin can wreak havoc on a person’s health, causing them to assume the worst. With more than 3 million U.S. citizens suffering from a vitamin D deficiency each year, it’s relatively easy to diagnose and even easier to treat.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this article on 10 of the Most Common Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms, you may also enjoy reading Tips for Dealing with Postpartum Depression.