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Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 4 minutes read

There are many possible symptoms of vitamin D deficiency, although it is also possible to have no symptoms at all. Here in this article, Healthwords will walk you through what Vitamin D does, why it is so important, and what the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are so that you can be on the lookout.

What is vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a crucial role in various physiological processes in the body. There are two primary forms of vitamin D: vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Vitamin D2 is derived from plant sources, while vitamin D3 is synthesized in the skin in response to exposure to ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation from the sun and is also found in some animal-based foods.

Functions of Vitamin D

Calcium Absorption

One of the key roles of vitamin D is to facilitate the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the intestines. This is essential for maintaining strong and healthy bones and teeth.

Bone Health

Vitamin D is critical for bone health, as it helps regulate calcium levels in the blood and promotes the mineralization of bone tissue. Deficiency can lead to conditions like rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults.

Immune System Support

Vitamin D is involved in the regulation of the immune system. It plays a role in modulating immune responses and may help in reducing the risk of certain autoimmune diseases.

Cell Growth and Differentiation

Vitamin D is implicated in cell growth, proliferation, and differentiation. It has been studied for its potential role in preventing certain types of cancers, although the evidence is still being explored.

Mood Regulation

There is evidence suggesting a link between vitamin D levels and mood regulation. Some studies have explored its potential role in reducing the risk of mood disorders, although more research is needed in this area.

What are the symptoms?

Vitamin D deficiency can manifest through a range of symptoms, affecting various aspects of health. One prominent sign is musculoskeletal issues, including bone pain and muscle weakness.

In children, a deficiency can lead to a condition called rickets, characterized by softened and weakened bones, delayed growth, and skeletal deformities.

In adults, a deficiency may contribute to osteomalacia, where bones become fragile and prone to fractures. Fatigue and generalized weakness are common, as vitamin D plays a crucial role in muscle function. Individuals with low levels of vitamin D may also experience mood changes, including depression and irritability, highlighting the vitamin's role in neurological wellbeing. Impaired immune function is another symptom, making individuals more susceptible to infections. Additionally, hair loss and impaired wound healing have been associated with vitamin D deficiency. Recognizing these symptoms is vital for prompt intervention through dietary changes, sunlight exposure, and, when necessary, supplementation to address the deficiency and prevent long-term health complications. If someone suspects they have vitamin D deficiency, consulting a healthcare professional for appropriate testing and guidance is recommended.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

Vitamin D supplements are available at the pharmacy or health food stores, and they usually come in a version called vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol. You can buy this on its own or combined with other vitamins such as calcium, or in multivitamins. If you are in a high-risk group or for anyone living in the US in winter, you do not need to check vitamin D levels. You can just start taking supplements. If you are worried, you can get your levels checked in a blood test at your doctor's office.

Vitamin D comes in tablets, capsules, oral sprays, or oral liquids. You can take it daily or at a higher dose weekly. It comes in a variety of strengths, depending on your personal preference.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means that you maximize absorption by taking it with healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds, eggs, or a dressing made with olive oil.

When should I see my doctor?

Vitamin D is considered safe for most people to take. If you take certain medications, you may need to check with your doctor before starting vitamin D. These include digoxin or so-called water tablets (diuretics) such as bendroflumethiazide, bumetanide, indapamide, and spironolactone.

You can speak to your local pharmacist or book a routine visit with your doctor if you are concerned you have vitamin D deficiency or have any symptoms.

Your doctor will ask you about your past medical history, any current symptoms, and any risk factors for vitamin D deficiency. They may do a general examination and give you advice. You are recommended to eat a broad, balanced diet, and if you are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency, then they may suggest vitamin D supplementation.

If you do test and your vitamin D level is slightly lower than normal (vitamin D insufficiency), or it is the winter months, or you are in a group that is higher risk (any heritage other than white Caucasian, or live in a country with low sunshine exposure such as the northern US), your doctor will suggest you buy supplements yourself. If your doctor advises a test, and it shows a severe vitamin D deficiency, then your doctor will prescribe a vitamin D supplement which will be a higher amount than people who are taking vitamin D for maintenance in the winter months.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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