Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency That Shouldn’t Be Ignored
As one of the essential vitamins, vitamin D is a fat-soluble material that serves multiple roles in helping to support the body’s major systems.
Commonly associated with milk, this element exists in several different foods and is also produced by the body.
Surprisingly, vitamin D deficiency is quite common with an estimated 41.6 percent of American adults lacking in this vital nutrient in 2011, according to the Nutrition Research journal.
For many people, signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can be hard to spot and are often mistaken for other problems. Ignoring or overlooking these signs can lead to serious problems down the road.
What Does Vitamin D Do?
Unlike most other essential vitamins, vitamin D acts as a hormone and is so important that every one of the body’s cell has a specialized receptor for it.
Vitamin D’s primary function works to help the body absorb calcium, another one of the body’s building materials.
Individual cell receptors use vitamin D to help grow more cells as well as encodes them with instructions on what to do based on where each cell is located in the body.
As far as bone health goes, this vitamin works with calcium to strengthen bones and maintain bone health. Vitamin D also plays an important role in muscle movement by transmitting messages between the brain and the muscles.
Lastly, vitamin D helps support a healthy immune system by fighting off harmful viruses and bacteria.
What Are Some Sources of Vitamin D?
Sunlight, dietary intake, and diet supplements make up the three main sources of vitamin D for the body. In turn, signs of a deficiency in vitamin D can develop gradually, over time as the body’s systems start to suffer in its absence.
Sun-exposure enables the body to produce vitamin D through chemical interactions with cholesterol materials in the skin.
Using the sun’s ultraviolet B rays, any exposed area of the skin will produce this vitamin, though too much exposure can be harmful. These processes illustrate just one of vitamin D’s hormone-like qualities.
As part of a daily diet, eating certain foods can go a long way towards warding off vitamin D deficiency. According to the National Institutes of Health, foods containing vitamin D include:
- Egg yolks
- Fatty fish, such as tuna, mackerel, and salmon
- Beef Liver
- Breakfast cereals
While sunlight and daily diet offer two main sources of vitamin D, sunlight is not always an option and dietary intake may not be enough to provide needed amounts of vitamin D.
When this is the case, dietary supplements, such as vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3 can help make up the difference.
What Are Some of the Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency?
Slow Wound Healing
In cases of injury or after surgery, vitamin D effects play a central role in forming new skin during the wound healing process.
In effect, the presence of a wound actually depletes the body’s reserves of this vitamin. If a deficiency exists prior to the injury, the healing process moves that much slower.
Vitamin D also helps ward off inflammation and infection during healing. It does this by helping the body produce cathelicidin, an immune system peptide that prevents infection-causing microbes from growing.
In turn, a vitamin D deficiency will leave the affected area more susceptible to harmful bacteria.
The body’s bone metabolism processes rely heavily on vitamin D’s ability to promote calcium absorption. Low levels of this vitamin result in slow bone metabolism, which leads to low bone mineral density.
Since bone density levels determine the actual bone mass, insufficient amounts of vitamin D will inevitably lead to bone loss over time.
According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, bone loss starts to develop in people over the age of 50, and particularly for menopausal women.
As estrogen levels decline during menopause, bone metabolism processes slow considerably. For men, a decline in testosterone levels has the same effect.
A condition known as osteoporosis is common in older adults when the effects of vitamin D deficiency become more pronounced. With osteoporosis, bone density levels have reached a point where bones become brittle and more prone to breaking.
Muscle Pain and Weakness
Vitamin D’s role in transmitting messages between the brain and muscles can cause muscle pain to develop when needed reserves of the vitamin are lacking. Nerve cells located inside the muscles have vitamin D receptors.
When low levels of vitamin D are present, it interferes with a nerve cell’s ability to regulate pain sensations. Over time, muscle pain can develop and worsen as a result.
Along with pain, muscle weakness is often one of the first signs of low levels of vitamin D in the blood.
At normal blood levels, vitamin D’s presence inside muscle cells helps them generate the energy needed to contract, move, and coordinate nerve cell functions.
When low levels of D are present, feelings of muscle weakness develop and will continue to get worse.
Under these conditions, a person is more prone to accidents, falling, and injury as muscles become weaker and uncoordinated.
Fatigue and Tiredness
Fatigue and feeling tired much of the time is a commonly overlooked symptom of vitamin D deficiency. While this may not always be the case, the D vitamin does help promote healthy cell metabolism processes, which includes the production of ATP.
Also known as adenosine triphosphate, ATP is the energy that fuels cell activity. Symptoms of fatigue and tiredness can result from any chemical process or deficiency that interferes with ATP production.
The vital role vitamin D plays in maintaining healthy bones inevitably affects the pain receptors that reside inside the bone tissue.
Much like the effects of low levels of vitamin D on the muscles, a deficiency can also cause painful symptoms to develop in the bones. This includes lower back pain as well as pain in the legs, joints, and ribs.
While the direct effects of vitamin D on blood pressure remain unclear, studies have shown that people with low levels of vitamin D are more prone to developing hypertension. Hypertension results from:
- Narrowing arteries
- A more forceful or faster heartbeat than normal
- Increased amounts of blood moving through the heart vessels
Hypertension typically appears in people who have high blood pressure. When high blood pressure is present, the excess strain is placed on the heart and arteries.
High blood pressure can also develop as a result of plaque build-up in the arteries, which results when the body produces too many cells in the tissues that line the arteries.
A lack of vitamin D can lead to increased plaque build-up since this vitamin helps regulate cell growth processes.
Vitamin D also helps regulate the system that controls blood pressure rates, so a deficiency can actually worsen hypertension symptoms.
According to the Journal of Issues in Mental Health Nursing, research studies have found a link between depression and vitamin D deficiency in older adults. Older adults who had low levels of vitamin D were found to be more prone to depression than adults with normal levels.
While conclusive evidence has yet to be found, conditions like Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD demonstrate a direct relationship between sunlight exposure and mood states.
People affected by SAD experience feelings of depression during the fall and winter seasons, which are seasons where sunlight duration is reduced.
Considering how sunlight stimulates the body’s vitamin D production levels, it’s likely that a vitamin D deficiency can cause signs of depression to develop.
The effects of vitamin D deficiency on blood pressure inevitably impact the body’s cardiovascular system as a whole.
Cardiovascular or heart disease develops in the tissues that make up the heart and blood vessels become damaged over time.
Plaque build-up stretched vessel linings, and problems with blood circulation all contribute to weakened heart functions.
Low vitamin D levels not only contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease but can also make an existing heart problem worse.
Signs of cardiovascular disease include:
- Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
- Chest discomfort
- Pain radiating down the arms
- Excess sweating
- Heartburn or frequent nausea
Low levels of vitamin D in the system can account for female pattern hair loss and also for a condition known as alopecia.
Since hair grows from the skin of the scalp, the effects of vitamin D deficiency leaves the skin unable to metabolize the materials needed for hair growth. For women approaching menopause, female pattern hair loss is common.
Alopecia is an autoimmune disease that causes severe hair loss from the head as well as from other areas of the body.
According to the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, this condition is also associated with rickets, which stems from vitamin D deficiency.
The kidney organs contain millions of vitamin D receptors. The kidneys also play a central role in turning vitamin D into a form that can be used by the body.
While vitamin D deficiency doesn’t necessarily cause kidney problems, kidney problems may account for low levels of vitamin D in the body.
In effect, the body can’t use this vitamin until the kidneys convert it to calcitriol. Damage to the kidneys impairs its ability to convert vitamin D into a useable form. Subsequently, when kidney functioning starts to decline, the body’s vitamin D levels decrease.
Signs of kidney problems or kidney disease include:
- Swelling in the feet and ankles
- Problems sleeping
- Muscle cramps and/or twitching
- Appetite loss
- Frequent itching
Respiratory problems often develop out of infections that lodge in the lungs, sinuses, throat, and airways. More often than not, these types of problems occur in the winter months.
The reduction in sun exposure that occurs in the wintertime can deplete the body’s vitamin D levels. As with other areas of the body, a lack of vitamin D compromises cellular functions, including cells in the respiratory tract.
These conditions leave the body more susceptible to colds and flu as well as breathing problems in general.
The brain relies on adequate levels of vitamin D just like the rest of the body. Since the brain’s cells also house vitamin D receptor sites, low levels of this vitamin can interfere with the brain’s chemical processes.
These processes regulate almost every major bodily system, including the emotions.
Vitamin D’s effects help regulate serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a vital neurotransmitter chemical that’s responsible for maintaining emotional well-being.
When vitamin D deficiency is present, a person stands to feel irritable and discontent on a frequent basis.
What Are Common Risk Factors Associated With Vitamin D Deficiency?
While heredity always plays a determining role in the body’s overall health, certain risk factors can make a person more susceptible to developing vitamin D deficiency.
Some of the more common risk factors include:
- Overuse of sunscreen
- Having dark skin
- Obesity or being overweight
- Spending too much time indoors
- Poor diet
- Dairy allergies
- Lactose intolerance
- Vegan Diets
For a more in-depth discussion on risk factors associated with vitamin D deficiency, check out this Youtube video, “Why All of a Sudden is Everyone Deficient in Vitamin D?”
It’s Never Too Late to Replenish the Body’s Vitamin D Reserves
As an essential vitamin, vitamin D provides much-needed support for the body’s overall health. Whenever an essential nutrient is missing from a person’s diet, the body has to work that much harder to maintain normal functioning.
Over time, signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency start to develop as the most vulnerable systems in the body start to break down.
A proper diet, getting ample amounts of sun exposure, and, when necessary, dietary supplements can remedy many of the conditions that develop out of vitamin D deficiency.
The sooner a person takes action to correct for a deficiency in vitamin D the stronger the body and mind will be for years to come.