Vitamin D Deficiency

Most people can get all the vitamin D they need just by spending time in the sun. However, sometimes people aren’t able to get enough vitamin D, often because of a lack of sun exposure or certain health conditions.

Vitamin D deficiency can eventually lead to serious health problems, including rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults. Vitamin D deficiency symptoms include muscle aches, bone pain and weakness. Fortunately, vitamin D deficiency is usually easy to treat.

What Is Vitamin D Deficiency

Currently, the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board recommends that adults get between 5 and 15 mcg vitamin D per day (children need about 5 mcg per day). When your body doesn’t get an adequate amount of vitamin D, you are said to be vitamin D deficient.

Early signs of vitamin D deficiency include weakness, muscle aches and bone pain. Over time, a lack of vitamin D can lead to serious diseases, like osteoporosis in adults and rickets in children. Low levels of vitamin D have also been linked to a range of other health problems, including asthma, breast cancer and heart disease.

Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency

The major cause of vitamin D deficiency is not getting enough sun. While protecting your skin from harmful UV rays is important, sunscreens and skin coverings can also prevent your body from synthesizing the vitamin D you need to stay healthy. Many doctors now recommend exposing part of your skin (such as your face and hands) to the sun for between 5 and 30 minutes a few times a week, without sunscreen. That’s all it takes for your body to make the vitamin D you need.

Some people may suffer from vitamin D deficiency because of certain medical conditions. For example, some people’s kidneys aren’t able to process vitamin D properly. In others, vitamin D may not be properly absorbed by the digestive tract. Sometimes, people with lactose intolerance or those who follow a strict vegetarian diet may experience a vitamin D deficiency.

Other groups that are at risk of vitamin D deficiency include:

  • Adults over age 60
  • Breastfed infants
  • People with dark skin.

Ways to Prevent Vitamin D Deficiency

The easiest way to boost vitamin D levels is to increase your exposure to sunlight. However, for some people (such as those that live in northern climates), getting even a few minutes of sun every day can be difficult.

In certain situations, your doctor may prescribe vitamin D supplements. These supplements can be a good way to make sure that your body gets the vitamin D it needs. However, you should talk to your doctor before taking vitamin D supplements, since very high levels of vitamin D in your body can actually be toxic.

Resources

MedlinePlus (2009). Vitamin D. Retrieved December 10, 2009, from the MedlinePlus website: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002405.htm.

Merck Home Manual. (n.d.). Vitamin D. Retrieved December 10, 2009, from the Merck website: http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec12/ch154/ch154j.html.

National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. (2009). Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D. Retrieved December 10, 2009, from the National Institutes of Health website: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitamind.asp.