Vitamin D Bone Health Rickets

Rickets is a childhood disease characterized by softened or weakened bones. It is caused by a lack of vitamin D, calcium or phosphate. In adults, rickets is called osteomalacia.

Low vitamin D levels are a major cause of rickets. Rickets was once a common childhood illness in the United States, though it is now relatively rare.

What Are Rickets?

Rickets occurs when your body does not get adequate amounts of vitamin D, calcium or phosphorus. When a person is lacking in these nutrients, problems with bone growth and development can result. Children between the ages of 3 and 36 months are the most at risk for rickets. That’s because children grow rapidly at that age, and need large quantities these nutrients for their bones to develop normally.

Rickets and Vitamin D - The Effects of Rickets - Bone Health

The Connection Between Rickets and Vitamin D

Rickets is most often caused by a vitamin D deficiency. When your body is lacking in vitamin D, it is unable to absorb calcium and phosphorus. In addition, low vitamin D levels can cause your body to expel calcium and phosphorus from your bones, which further contributes to bone problems. Because calcium and phosphorus are essential for healthy bone development, people who don’t get enough of these minerals for an extended period of time may suffer from malformed or weakened bones.

Usually, increasing your intake of vitamin D, calcium, or both will correct rickets and the problems it causes. In most people, increasing the amount sun exposure, eating vitamin D-rich foods (such as tuna, salmon or fortified milk), and/or taking vitamin D supplements, will correct a vitamin D deficiency.

Who Gets Rickets

Certain groups of people are at increased risk of developing rickets. These include:

  • Breastfed infants, since there is little vitamin D in breast milk, and infants usually do not get much sun exposure.
  • Individuals who get little exposure to the sun.
  • People who are lactose intolerant, adhere to a strict vegetarian diet or do not drink a lot of milk.
  • People with fat malabsorption, who have difficulty absorbing vitamin D.

Symptoms of Rickets

Symptoms of rickets include:

  • Bone pain or tenderness, particularly in the arms, legs, pelvis or spine
  • Dental problems, including delayed formation of teeth, deformed teeth or an increased number of cavities
  • Fractures
  • Muscle weakness
  • Skeletal or bone deformities such as bowlegs, pelvic or spine deformities, or an unusually shaped skull
  • Slow or impaired growth.

If identified early, rickets is easily treatable. However, if rickets is left untreated, serious problems can result, including long-term growth problems, dental problems, seizures and delayed development of motor skills. To prevent rickets, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfed infants be given vitamin D supplements. In general, children and teens get at least 400 IU (international units) of vitamin D each day. Speak to your doctor before administering any medication to your children.

Resources

Mayo Clinic. (2008). Rickets. Retrieved December 21, 2009 from the Mayo Clinic website: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/rickets/DS00813.

MedlinePlus (2008). Rickets. Retrieved December 13, 2009 from the MedlinePlus website: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000344.htm.

National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. (2009). Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D. Retrieved December 15, 2009 from the National Institutes of Health website: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitamind.asp.