Vitamin D offers numerous benefits to the body. You will be making yourself vulnerable to health problems if you do not make effort to ensure optimal levels. Vitamin D deficiency is a more common issue than many people realize. It doesn’t usually cross the mind of many people when they notice unpleasant signs of their health. They fail to think that the low level of this vitamin may be the reason. You need to read on to learn about how to tell the presence of this condition. You will also learn what you can do treat or reverse it.
Understanding vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D is more or less an umbrella term for a number of fat-soluble hormones. This helps with absorption of calcium, phosphate and magnesium in the body in the intestine. There is going to be a problem absorbing these minerals if its levels are low. The result of this will be a drop in the levels of calcium, magnesium and phosphate. The vitamin is crucial to bone formation and cell growth. It helps to control inflammation. Vitamin D is also said to have effects on the immune, muscle and nervous systems.
This vitamin is often called the “sunshine vitamin.” This is because your body produces it naturally when exposed to sunlight. Apparently, vitamin D deficiency means having too low levels of the substance. But what is the definition of a deficiency really? Or more appropriately, how low is too low to be described as deficiency?
The amount of vitamin D in the body is commonly measured as nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL), or nanomoles per liter (nmol/L). Using this metric, the usual, healthy levels of these organic compounds fall within the range 20 ng/mL to 50 ng/mL. You are at risk of a deficiency when levels drop below this. Potential deficiency is having between 12 ng/mL and 20 ng/mL. Any amount below 12 ng/mL means you are vitamin D deficient.
The kinds of lifestyle many people maintain today make them highly likely to have low levels. One billion people have this problem, as estimated by Harvard University. Yet, many of those affected do not even know they have the problem.
A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey report has provided insight into the extent of the problem. It was estimated that blood levels of vitamin D in people living in the United States dropped by roughly 10 percent between the periods 1988-1994 and 2001-2006.
What are the causes?
A combination of factors can cause you to have vitamin D deficiency. These include:
Insufficient sun exposure – Many people are conditioned these days to stay away from the sun. This of itself is a way of preventing certain health issues. But then, you still need sun exposure for your body to produce vitamin D. Low levels are therefore likely if you spend a lot of time indoors. Note that the use of sunscreen could hinder the production of these natural compounds. Also, you need to know that sunlight passing through glass or window pane is not that much beneficial, if at all.
Obesity – This is another causative factor that is linked to the choices many people make. Modern society is witnessing something of an epidemic when it comes to obesity. If you have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above, you are at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Fat cells extract it from the blood, thereby affecting availability for circulation.
Veganism – You are at risk of vitamin D deficiency when you maintain a strictly plant-based diet. This substance mostly comes from foods of animal origin. These include beef liver, fish and egg yolks. Individuals who strictly abstain from animal products, such as vegans, are therefore likely to have low levels.
Dark skin – Research shows that people with darker skin, especially the older ones, are more likely to have deficiency issue. The pigment melanin, present in elevated amount in dark skin, adversely impacts the ability of the skin to make vitamin D from exposure to sunlight.
Malabsorption – Vitamin D deficiency is not necessarily about not having sufficient amount in your body. There may be a medical problem extracting the compounds from the foods you consume. Conditions such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and cystic fibrosis can be responsible for this.
Kidney or liver issues – In order to get the most out of vitamin D, your kidney and liver need to be in top condition. These organs are crucial to conversion of vitamin D into its active form. This predisposes you to having a deficiency. Things can become worse as regards calcium levels in the body. Impaired renal function may lead to significant loss of calcium leading to renal osteodystrophy.
Genetics – It is said that the genes you inherit from your parents is a possible risk factor for vitamin D deficiency. Low serum levels may result from errors in the genes that code for the vitamin receptor. Deficiency could also be due to diminished function in genes related to metabolic enzymes.
Exclusive breastfeeding of infants may cause them to have insufficient vitamin D amounts. Human milk is not a good source of the vitamin. Certain medications may also interfere with conversion or absorption of the substance in the body. These include anti-fungal drugs, glucocorticoids, and medications for treating seizures.
Other Risk Factors For Vitamin D Deficiency Include:
- Lymphomas (a form of cancer)
- Gastric bypass surgery
Problems vitamin D deficiency may cause
You may experience a wide range of health issues if you have low levels of vitamin D. This is considering the vital roles it plays in several processes in the body. However, you can easily miss the existence of a deficiency. This is because the compound performs its functions indirectly in most cases.
Existence of certain conditions may be what will eventually lead to the detection of the problem. The issues that may result are partly dependent on your gender.
Vitamin D deficiency in men
The following are some consequences that have been observed in men:
Erectile dysfunction – It has been noticed that low levels of this vitamin may impact adversely on a man’s ability to have a sufficiently firm erection. Of course, this male health issue, which affects millions of men in the United States, has other possible causes.
It was observed in a 2014 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine that men having severe form of erectile dysfunction had substantially lower levels than others with mild cases of the vitamin. This seems to suggest that deficiency may be a contributory factor.
Prostate cancer – This most common form of cancer in men also appears to have a connection to vitamin D deficiency. This is based on evidence from a study that appeared in the Clinical Cancer Research in 2014. The researchers observed a correlation between low levels of vitamin D in the blood and incidence of prostate cancer. It was found that the risk of having this condition was especially greater in deficient African-American men.
Chronic pain – Bone pain is a common consequence of vitamin D deficiency. In adults, very low levels lead to osteomalacia. This condition gives rise to weak bones and muscle weakness, in addition to bone pain. Findings by some University of Manchester researchers suggest that a deficiency may lead to chronic pain in men.
The researchers used the data of more than 2,300 men. It was found that subjects with low levels who showed no symptoms at the start of the study had chronic widespread pain after a little over four years. These deficient men were observed to be more than two times likely to have this problem than men with highest amount of the vitamin. They were also at increased risk of some other health issues, including depression and obesity.
Vitamin D deficiency in women
Of course, there are also certain issues peculiar to women due to low serum levels of vitamin D. They include:
Breast cancer – In the same way deficiency may cause prostate cancer in men, it could possibly lead to breast cancer in women. There is also research to back this probable consequence. In one of numerous such studies, it was shown that the risks of having metastatic disease and dying were significantly higher among women with low levels than peers with normal amounts.
Infertility – Women suffering from vitamin D deficiency may experience fertility challenges. The organic compound is known to help normalize the amounts of progesterone and estradiol in the body. High levels of these two hormones can lead to infertility. So it should be a thing of concern when a woman has insufficient amount of vitamin D.
This substance not only help guard against infertility due to effect it has on both estradiol and progesterone levels. It can also be beneficial in fighting polycystic ovarian syndrome. This condition makes it harder for women to have babies.
Pregnancy – Some people have suggested that vitamin D deficiency may have adverse effects on babies in the pregnant women. When babies do not get enough from their pregnant mothers, they could be at risk of having low bone density. But there appears to be no sufficient research evidence to back this claim.
Other Possible Vitamin D Issues
In addition to the foregoing, low serum vitamin D levels can give rise to a variety of other problems.
Rickets – This condition has long been associated to low amount of this vitamin. In fact, it is the problem that readily comes to mind when talking about deficiency. Some experts say the same condition is known as osteomalacia in adults. It usually causes the leg bones to extend outwards – the so-called “bow legs.” This happens due to low bone density, which leads to soft bones and deformities.
Osteoporosis – Due to its association to low mineral density, vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis. This results mainly from the associated poor absorption of calcium from food. The condition is believed to increase the risk of falls and bone fractures, especially among the elderly. In one study, supplementation was shown to reduce risks of fall and bone fractures by about 12 percent.
However, this is just one of several possible factors that may contribute to osteoporosis. There is also no conclusive evidence that higher levels of vitamin D can lower the risk of the condition.
Schizophrenia – It seems that you are more likely to suffer schizophrenia when you have low levels of the vitamin. This severe mental disorder affects millions of people in America and has no known cure. It causes withdrawal from other people, incoherent speech and hallucinations, among others.
Researchers observed a relationship between vitamin D deficiency and schizophrenia in a review of studies that appeared in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism in 2014. They found that people with low levels were twice more likely to have this long-term brain disorder than those with healthy levels.
Dementia – Researchers have also found that vitamin D deficiency may be a factor in the incidence of dementia. The risk of the dreaded mental disorder increases with age. It is not exactly clear how low levels of the organic substance may contribute to the condition. But experts suspect that it may be have to do with control of plaques that contribute to dementia.
A 2014 study in Neurology showed the risk of this disorder, including Alzheimer’s, increases the more the lower the levels of vitamin D. The subjects for the inquiry were adults who were at least 65 years old and didn’t yet have dementia. It was found that the risk of the mental condition increased by 125 percent in severely deficient subjects, compared to those who had healthy levels.
Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to the following:
- Insulin resistance
- Severe asthma (in children)
- High blood pressure
- Autoimmune disorders (e.g. multiple sclerosis)
- Heart disease
Scientists continue to investigate other health issues that low vitamin D levels may play a role in. Thorough analysis will be needed to see how the compound may help in dealing with a variety of conditions.
How is vitamin D deficiency diagnosed?
Blood testing is the most effective way of measuring the amount of vitamin D in the body. The test used in this case is known as 25(OH)D test. This examines the levels of 25-hydroxyl vitamin D in the blood. This form of the vitamin is what circulates in your blood. It therefore serves as a good indicator of how much of the compound you have been able to obtain. The levels are expressed in nanomoles per liter or nanograms per milliliter, as explained previously.
How much of the vitamin do you need?
Your vitamin D requirement will depend mostly on the levels you already have in your body and your age. The vitamin is measured in international units (IU). Mostly, people need a dose in the range 400 to 800 IU a day. A doctor can guide you better on the best daily dosage.
However, the following are the recommendations by the Office of Dietary Supplements, according to age group:
- Birth to 12 months – 400 IU
- 1-70 years – 600 IU
- Older than 70 years – 800 IU
It should be noted that a person’s condition will influence how much vitamin D they actually need. For example, Healthline states that individuals who are very deficient may need roughly 1000 IU a day.
How Do You Boost Your Vitamin D Levels?
You basically have three ways to raise the amount of this vitamin in your body. These are:
- Vitamin D Supplements
- Sun exposure
You should endeavor to eat more of foods that provide you with the compound. As we noted previously, these are mainly animal products. Examples include fatty fish (such as tuna and salmon), egg yolks, beef liver, mushrooms, and fish liver oils. There are other food products, of plant origin, that are fortified with vitamin D as well. These include breakfast cereals, soy drinks, and orange juice.
Multivitamins offer a decent way of making up levels, in case you are not getting enough from your diet. You may alternatively get vitamin D supplements, if multivitamins aren’t helping much. These are often the immediate recourse when you approach a doctor for help.
If you are the type that stays indoors a lot, you need to start going out more for sun exposure. Experts say that about 15 minutes in the sun is enough to help you get your daily dose. But you need to not have sunscreen on for this to work effectively in boosting levels. You have to note, however, that the level of access to direct rays determines the ideal length of sun exposure.
Risk Of Overdose
We advise that you be cautious about how you go about boosting vitamin D levels. You may boost the amount in the body beyond normal levels if due diligence is not observed. This will give rise to a condition known as hypervitaminosis D. The rare condition is more likely to result from overuse of vitamin D supplements, according to Mayo Clinic. It is not probable for this to happen from sun exposure or the foods you eat.
You should understand that this vitamin is of the fat-soluble class. This type is stored up in the body. The consequence of this is that you can easily have excessive levels in your body. Potentially awful complications may result from this, including:
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Kidney damage
- High blood pressure
- Hardening of arteries
- Heart arrhythmias
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to a variety of medical conditions. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent these issues from cropping up. Foods and sun exposure are the best means of boosting levels. But you should note that this may take some time to fully address a deficiency. There is also the option of using supplements, although you have to be cautious about this. You should therefore consult your doctor if considering using supplements.