Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, its best source being sunlight. A small quantity of it is present in foods, including fortified products and milk. Vitamin D is required by our body as it helps in calcium metabolism and helps maintain strong bones. However, lack of adequate vitamin D can cause harmful effects ranging from affecting the bones and muscles to having low immunity. Let us understand in detail about vitamin D deficiency, its causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D helps in calcium absorption in the body for the maintenance of bones. Apart from strengthening the bone, vitamin D also serves the following purposes,
- Supports muscle health
- Aids cell growth
- Improves immune system
- Helps in reducing inflammation which can lead to rheumatoid arthritis
- Regulates blood pressure and cardiovascular health
Recommended allowance of vitamin D for an adult is 600 IU per day, it goes up to 800 IU per day for age above 70 years. The diet rich in vitamin D is fatty fish such as salmon, trout, tuna and milk, and yogurt can help to a great extent. Lack of adequate vitamin D can result in vitamin D deficiency, which can have negative impact on health.
Knowing the causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention of vitamin D can help in better planning. Determining vitamin D levels with laboratory tests and seeking medical opinion for appropriate medicines can help in preventing further complications.
What Causes Vitamin D Deficiency?
Vitamin D deficiency occurs when the body does not get enough of this vitamin via food and sunlight. There are some factors that affect whether or not a person is at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Some of the commonest risk factors and causes of vitamin D deficiency include the following
Age: Vitamin D absorption decreases with age.
Dark skin: Melanin reduces the skin’s ability to make vitamin D in response to sunlight. Elderly people with dark skin have higher chances of vitamin D deficiency.
Obesity: Excess of fat interferes with vitamin D absorption, thus making it a possible cause of vitamin D deficiency.
Less exposure to the sun: Spending less time outdoors is one of the causes of vitamin D deficiency, as it leads to less exposure to sun rays which is the best source of vitamin D.
Pollution: Pollution absorbs most of the sun rays, thus reducing the amount of vitamin D for body’s absorption.
Sunscreen application: Using sunscreen for protection from sun rays also limits the vitamin D absorption.
Diet: Consuming diet low in vitamin D also increases the risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Breastfeeding infant: Vitamin D content is low in human milk. Therefore the infants who depend just on breast milk might suffer from vitamin D deficiency.
Kidney disease: People suffering from kidney disease are at greater risk of having low vitamin D levels as a diseased kidney is less able to convert vitamin D into its active form.
Gastrointestinal illness: Certain intestinal problems like Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and celiac disease, affect the intestine ability to absorb vitamin D from the food eaten. These too are some of the contributing causes of vitamin D deficiency.
Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency
Most of the people with vitamin D deficiency may not present may not experience any symptoms. Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency if show up may change over time.
Few of the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are as follows,
- Thinning of bones, frequent fractures, osteoporosis
- Increase in blood pressure
- Hair fall
- Muscle pain and weakness
- Pain in bones
- Frequent mood changes
- Fatigued feeling even while sleeping well
- Unexplained infertility
- Cardiovascular diseases
Diagnosis of vitamin D deficiency is made with a blood test that measures 25-hydroxyvitamin D in the body. Normal level ranges between 20 nanograms/milliliter- 50 nanograms/milliliter. A level less than 12 ng/mL indicates vitamin D deficiency.
Treatment and Prevention of Vitamin D Deficiency
Ideal vitamin D intake varies with age, activity level, and metabolic health. People should keep a tab on the symptoms and speak to the health advisor for the strategies to keep the levels normal. Treatment of vitamin D deficiency aims to supplement with the necessary dosage of this vitamin and advises on lifestyle modifications.
Some of the lifestyle changes advised as a part of treatment of vitamin D deficiency include the following,
Keep a check on the medical conditions – Always check and get treated, any medical condition, especially diseases of the gut, liver, and kidney as they can be the underlying causes of vitamin D deficiency.
Maintain a healthy weight – Be physically active. Go out on a walk so that you get the daily dose of sunlight exposure. This plays an important role in prevention of vitamin D deficiency.
Take vitamin D supplements – Breastfeeding infant should be given a vitamin D supplement, as medically advised, as a part of treatment and prevention of vitamin D deficiency.
Diet – Eat a diet which is a rich natural source of vitamin D such as tuna, mackerel, salmon, and fish liver oil. Beef liver, egg yolk, and cheese contain vitamin D in small quantities.
Maintaining the levels of vitamin D in the body is good but never overdo, as the high levels are associated with other health problems. Hence, it is best to follow medical advice and take supplements or any treatment for vitamin D deficiency only as prescribed.
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