Vitamin D plays a vital role in boosting the immune system and helping your body absorb dietary calcium, a mineral needed by your bones, teeth and other tissues. Its deficiency may leave you more susceptible to muscle spasms, joint pain, frequent bone fractures, hair loss, and delayed wound healing, recurring respiratory infections due to impaired immunity.
Vitamin D is a vitamin synthesized from cholesterol and sunlight and converted to a hormone! It’s also found in certain foods such as fatty fish and fortified dairy products, although it’s very difficult to get enough from the diet.1
The recommended daily intake is usually around 400-800 IU, but many experts say you should get much more than that. Since vitamin D can be toxic it is important to monitor levels if supplementing for awhile. Vitamin D deficiency is extremely common. It’s estimated that about 1 billion people worldwide have low levels of the vitamin in their blood.
According to a 2011 study, almost 42% in the U.S. are deficient. This number goes up to 69.2 percent in Hispanics and 82.1 percent in African-Americans.
These are common risk factors for vitamin D deficiency:
- Having dark skin.
- Being elderly.
- Being overweight or obese.
- Not eating much fish or milk.
- Living far from the equator where there is little sun year-round.
- Always using sunscreen when going out.
- Staying indoors.
People who live near the equator and get frequent sun exposure are less likely to be deficient, because their skin produces enough vitamin D to satisfy the body’s needs.
Most people don’t realize that they are deficient because the symptoms are generally subtle. You may not notice them easily, even if they are having a significant negative effect on your quality of life.
Here are eight signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency. These signs are not necessarily diagnostic of vitamin D deficiency as they can be attributed to many causes …
1. Frequent Sickness
One of vitamin D’s most important roles is keeping your immune system strong so you’re able to fight off the viruses and bacteria that cause illness.
If you become sick often, especially with upper respiratory infections, low vitamin D levels may be a contributing factor.
Several large observational studies have shown a link between a deficiency and respiratory tract infections like colds, bronchitis and pneumonia and a number of studies have found that taking vitamin D supplements at dosages of up to 4,000 IU daily may reduce the risk of respiratory tract infections.
In one study of people with the chronic lung disorder COPD, those who were severely deficient in vitamin D experienced a significant benefit after taking a high-dose supplement for one year.
2. Fatigue And Tiredness
Feeling tired can have many causes and vitamin D deficiency may be one of them. Unfortunately, it’s often overlooked as a potential cause. Case studies have shown that very low blood levels can cause fatigue that has a severe negative effect on quality of life.
However, even blood levels that aren’t extremely low may have a negative impact on energy levels. A large observational study looked at the relationship between vitamin D and fatigue in young women.
The study found that women with blood levels under 20 ng/ml or 21–29 ng/ml were more likely to complain of fatigue than those with blood levels over 30 ng/ml.2
Another observational study of female nurses found a strong connection between low vitamin D levels and self-reported fatigue.
Vitamin D is involved in maintaining bone health through a number of mechanisms. For one, it improves your body’s utilization of calcium.3 Bone pain and lower back pain may be signs of inadequate vitamin D levels in the blood.
Several large observational studies have found a relationship between a deficiency and chronic lower back pain. One study examined the association between vitamin D levels and back pain in more than 9,000 older women.
The researchers found that those with a deficiency were more likely to have back pain, including severe back pain that limited their daily activities.
In one controlled study, people with vitamin D deficiency were nearly twice as likely to experience bone pain in their legs, ribs or joints compared to those with blood levels in the normal range .
Bottom Line: Low blood levels of the vitamin may be a cause or contributing factor to bone pain and lower back pain.
A depressed mood may also be a sign of deficiency. In review studies, researchers have linked vitamin D deficiency to depression, particularly in older adults.
In one analysis, 65 percent of the observational studies found a relationship between low blood levels and depression.
Some controlled studies have shown that giving vitamin D to people who are deficient help improve depression, including seasonal depression that occurs during the colder months.
Slow healing of wounds after surgery or injury may be a sign that vitamin D levels are too low. Results from a test-tube study suggest that the vitamin increases production of compounds that are crucial for forming a new skin as part of the wound-healing process .
One study on patients who had dental surgery found that certain aspects of healing were compromised by vitamin D deficiency .
It’s also been suggested that vitamin D’s role in decreasing inflammation and fighting infection is important for proper healing.
One analysis looked at patients with diabetic foot infections. It found that those with severe vitamin D deficiency were more likely to have higher levels of inflammatory markers that can jeopardize healing.
Unfortunately, at this point, there is very little research about the effects of vitamin D supplements on wound healing in people with deficiency.
6. Bone Loss
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in calcium absorption and bone metabolism.
Many older people, diagnosed with bone loss believe they need to take more calcium. However, they may be deficient in vitamin D as well.
Low bone mineral density is an indication that calcium and other minerals have been lost from bone. This places older people, especially women, at an increased risk of fractures.
In a large observational study of more than 1,100 middle-aged women in menopause or postmenopause, researchers found a strong link between low vitamin D levels and low bone mineral density.4
However, a controlled study found that women who were vitamin D deficient experienced no improvement in bone mineral density when they took high-dose supplements, even if their blood levels improved.5
Regardless of these findings, adequate vitamin D intake and maintaining blood levels within the optimal range may be a good strategy for protecting bone mass and reducing fracture risk.
Hair loss is often attributed to stress and emotional problems which are certainly a common cause. However, when hair loss is severe, it may be the result of a disease or nutrient deficiency.6
Hair loss in women has been linked to low vitamin D levels, although there is very little research on this so far.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease characterized by severe hair loss from the head and other parts of the body. It’s associated with rickets, which is a disease that causes soft bones in children due to vitamin D deficiency
Low vitamin D levels are linked to alopecia areata and may be a risk factor for developing the disease
One study in people with alopecia areata showed that lower blood levels tended to be associated with a more severe hair loss.7
In a case study, topical application of a synthetic form of the vitamin was found to successfully treat hair loss in a young boy with a defect in the vitamin D receptor.
Bottom Line: Hair loss may be a sign of vitamin D deficiency in female-pattern hair loss or the autoimmune condition alopecia areata.
8. Muscle Pain
The causes of muscle pain are often difficult to pinpoint. There is some evidence that vitamin D deficiency may be a potential cause of muscle pain in children and adults .
One study in 120 children with vitamin D deficiency who had growing pains found that a single dose of the vitamin reduced pain scores by an average of 57 percent.8