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Vitamin D deficiency is becoming quite pervasive and is worsened by factors like dark skin tone, advanced age, being overweight, being strictly vegan or vegetarian, not venturing out in the sun at all, overusing sun screens. What's peculiar about Vitamin D is that it acts more like a hormone and less like a micronutrient. All body cells have Vitamin-D receptors. Vitamin D is of two types: Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3. Both of them come from plant and animal sources and dietary supplements, and can be processed in the body too when exposed to sunlight. More than 80% of the body’s Vitamin D requirement is met by exposure to sunlight.

Vitamin D is synthesized in the body by exposure to sunlight, so just a brisk morning walk is sufficient for the daily intake. When the body absorbs sunlight, cholesterol is converted to Vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for the maintenance and repair of cells. It also regulates skin tone. But what happens when you lack this nutrient? Read on while we discuss this in detail.

 How much Vitamin D do you need?

Life Stage

Age group

Recommended dose

Infants

Till 12 months

10 mcg (400 IU)

Children

1-13 years

15 mcg (600 IU)

Teenagers

14-18 years

15 mcg (600 IU

Adults

19-70 years

15 mcg (600 IU

Elderly

70+

20 mcg (800 IU)

Pregnant women and lactating mothers

All ages

15 mcg (600 IU

Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency

Common symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include pain in the bones, muscles and feeling weakness. Vitamin D plays a key role in strengthening the immune system, so getting sick frequently can also be a symptom of Vitamin D deficiency. Prolonged pain in the lower back and joints can also be a result of lack of Vitamin D in the body. There’s also a direct correlation between mood swings, depressive temperament and low levels of Vitamin D in the bloodstream. Loss of bone density, especially among women and elderly, is also caused by Vitamin D deficiency. Severe hair loss is also attributed to lack of Vitamin D.

Health Risks of Vitamin D Deficiency

1. Skeletal deformation:

Severe Vitamin D deficiency leads to rickets, a medical condition causing skeletal deformation and weak bones. Vitamin D deficiency in children is the main cause of rickets and stunted growth.

2. Weak bones:

Vitamin D boosts absorption of calcium and phosphorus by up to 40% and 80% respectively. Lack of Vitamin D hinders this absorption, which prevents normal mineralization of bones. Vitamin D deficiency also increases the risk of osteopenia, osteomalacia, and osteoporosis.

3. Degenerative diseases:

Lack of Vitamin D in the bloodstream also magnifies the risk of multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Auto-immune disorders like Thyroid and Graves have a correlation with Vitamin D deficiency.

4. Cognitive Disorders:

As Vitamin D is also crucial for healthy development of brain cells and regulating brain cells and nervous functions, its deficiency compounds the risk of degenerative cognitive disorders like dementia, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and schizophrenia. As per studies, those deficient in Vitamin D are up to three times more prone to suffer from neurological and cognitive disorders.

5. Heart Diseases:

Heart diseases like hypertension, myocardial infarction, coronary arterial disease and stroke are associated with abnormally low Vitamin D in the body.

6. Inflammatory bowel disease:

It is an intestinal disorder that leads to inflammation in the digestive tract. It’s linked to Vitamin D deficiency.

7. Obesity:

While obesity is a medical condition that can be caused due to multiple factors, lack of Vitamin D is also a cause.

Diseases caused by deficiency of Vitamin D can get life-threatening.

Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency

1. Dietary factor

If you are a vegan or shun dairy products and meat, you are more likely to be deficient in Vitamin D, as some of the most common sources of Vitamin D are animal-based like meat, fish, liver, eggs.

2. No exposure to sunlight

Staying indoors most of the time and not stepping out even during early morning to get sunlight, increases the risk of developing Vitamin D deficiency. In temperate climate zones, Vitamin D deficiency is more common due to bone-chilling cold and no sunlight for months at stretch.

3. Darker skin tone

Darker skin has more melanin pigmentation which reduces the skin’s ability to make Vitamin D from sunlight.

4. Ageing

Kidneys weaken with age and they cannot process Vitamin D

5. Absorption issues

Certain medical conditions like Celiac disease, Crohn's disease etc affect the ability of intestines to absorb Vitamin D from diet.

6. Obesity

Vitamin D is extracted by the fat cells from the bloodstream and then circulated throughout the body. People who are obese have low Vitamin D in the blood stream.

In the nutshell, Vitamin D deficiency causes are varied, but mostly related to diet, sunlight and pre-existing medical conditions.

Tests for Vitamin D Deficiency

Most common and reliable way to determine Vitamin D deficiency is the 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test. Any amount between 20 ng/ ml to 50 ng/ml is considered normal. Less than 12 ng/ ml means Vitamin D deficiency.

Treatment for Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D deficiency is treated by getting an abundant amount of Vitamin D, both through sunlight and daily diet. If you don't consume eggs, meat, stay indoors most of the time and are allergic to sunlight, you should consult a doctor about whether you require supplements to compensate for lack of Vitamin D.

Vitamin D3 is the most recommended supplement as it replenishes the Vitamins rather swiftly. For best results, Vitamin D supplements should be taken alongside a fatty diet. According to studies, Vitamin D supplement absorption is over 30% more when taken with a meal that has fat. Taking supplements on an empty stomach should be avoided. The dose can be daily, weekly or even monthly, based on the doctor's prescription. In order to ascertain the progress made, and whether or not the supplements are having the desired effect, get your blood tested every three months.

Common Food Sources of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is naturally found in meat and milk products. Some of the sources of Vitamin D are fish, cod liver oil, egg yolk, liver, mutton, oysters, yogurt. Mushrooms and soya also contain Vitamin D.


Food

Quantity/ Amount

Vitamin D

Fish (Tuna, salmon)

3.5 oz

300 to 600 IU

Mushrooms (Fresh)

3.5 oz

100 IU

Mushrooms (Sun Dried)

3.5 oz

1600 IU

Egg Yolk

1 piece

20 IU

Yogurt

8 oz

100 IU

Fortified Orange Juice

8 oz

100 IU

Fortified Cheese

3 oz

100 IU

How to prevent Vitamin D deficiency?

Vitamin D deficiency can be prevented by stepping out in the sun for at least a few minutes in the morning and consuming food rich in Vitamin D. Those who are vegans, should include mushrooms in their diet and ask a doctor if they need dietary supplement. Vitamin D supplements are readily available as over-the-counter tablets and should be taken upon prescription in case of any warning signs. Fortified food stuffs should be consumed regularly to meet the lack of Vitamin D.

The Bottom Line

Vitamin D deficiency is a common ailment due to the habit of avoiding sunlight altogether. It is more widespread in cold-weather countries. Lack of Vitamin D causes depression, anxiety, and weakens the immune system. It also leads to skeletal deformities and neurological and cardio-vascular disorders. Keep your health insurance updated and go for routine check-ups to ensure good health. Regular intake of Vitamin D is essential for a healthy body . It supports strong bones, muscles as well as brain function. Regular intake of Vitamin D is essential for a host of body functions.

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