Vitamin D Deficiency Causes, Signs, Symptoms – How to Overcome?

Vitamin D is extremely important for your bone health and a deficiency can result in weak and brittle bones. Your body can produce vitamin D when skin is directly exposed to sunlight. You can also get vitamin D through foods such as beef liver, eggs, mushrooms, cod liver oil, and fatty fish like swordfish, salmon, or tuna. Your doctor may also advise supplements if you are found to be deficient.

Vitamin D is a wonder vitamin, one that’s crucial for your body, helping it absorb calcium and maintain your bones. That’s not all it does, though – your muscles need it to move, your nerves need it to carry messages between your brain and other body parts, and your immune system needs it to fight off harmful germs. No wonder, then, a vitamin D deficiency can spell trouble for your overall health. Unfortunately, three-quarters of the US population is deficient in this vital vitamin. And vitamin D deficiency has been implicated in many problems we face today, from rickets and osteomalacia to infections, cardiovascular problems, and even cancer. So, what exactly can you do to up your vitamin levels?

Get Some Sunshine Regularly

Vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin for a reason! Getting out in the sun is a natural and easy way of boosting your vitamin D levels. Your body uses the sun’s ultraviolet B rays to make this vitamin. But do remember that your skin needs direct sun exposure for this. Indirect exposure, say by sitting at a window, doesn’t work because UVB rays can’t travel through glass.

Rise And Shine To Get More Vitamin D

The amount of vitamin D that you’re able to produce also depends on other factors like your skin color, the part of the world that you live in, as well as the time that you get sun exposure. If you have pale skin, you’ll be able to make vitamin quicker than people with darker skin. This is because melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color, also protects it from the damaging effects of the sun by blocking UVB rays from entering your skin. Also, when the rays of the sun enter the atmosphere at too slanted an angle, UVB rays are partly blocked and your skin can’t use them to make vitamin D. So the closer you live to the equator and closer it is to noon, the better the angle at which the sun’s rays are hitting the atmosphere – and the more the chances of vitamin D production when you’re out in the sun.

Since there are so many factors at play here, it can be a little complicated to decide how much sun exposure you need. Some experts suggest limiting sun exposure to half the time it takes for your skin to begin burning. But as a rule of thumb, look to spend 15–30 minutes between 10 am and 3 pm in the sun – without sunscreen on. But it’s also important to avoid overexposure and the resultant risk of skin cancer. Remember, you don’t need to be tanned to produce vitamin D; getting sunburnt is a definite no-no as well.

Top 10 Foods Highest in Vitamin D


Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that plays several vital roles in the human body like proper absorption of calcium, neuromuscular functioning, proper immune functioning, and bone development, control of cell growth and alleviation of inflammation. Lack of vitamin D can lead to serious health problems; however there are several foods that are rich sources of Vitamin D.


Another great source of Vitamin D is fortified milk and it can provide as much as one fifth of the daily Vitamin D requirement. Unfortified dairy products are usually low on Vitamin D content.


Egg makes a healthy food that is rich in Vitamin D as well. However, most of the Vitamin D content is in egg yolk, making it important that the egg be eaten whole. Eating only the whites will not provide ample supply of Vitamin D.


Just like milk, orange juice is also fortified with Vitamin D. Since many health experts believe that Vitamin D can quickly improve health, it is recommended to add decent amount of Orange juice to the diet in order to increase the Vitamin D supply.


Cereals can be a rich source of Vitamin D as long as they are fortified with the Vitamin and other nutrients. A diet that includes fortified cereals for the breakfast can be great start for your day.


Mushrooms, depending on the type, have a significant amount of Vitamin D. Shiitake mushrooms contain higher Vitamin D content than white mushrooms. If you wish to add more Vitamin D to your diet, consider adding some shiitake mushroom to your plate.


Another great source of Vitamin D is Oyster. Oysters are healthy food as they are not only rich in Vitamin D but also offer abundant supply of Vitamin B12, Iron, Zinc, Copper and Selenium. However, oysters are high in cholesterol and should be eaten only in the right amounts.


Ricotta cheese has the highest Vitamin D content amongst all cheese types. Although, the Vitamin D content is still not that abundant as compared to other foods from the list, Ricotta cheese has ample Vitamin D, much more than any other cheese, to find a place in your plate.


Another wonderful food rich in Vitamin D is Cod liver Oil. It contains very high levels of Vitamin A and vitamin D, making it one of the best natural supplements. Make sure you add cod level oil to your diet plan if you intend to increase the Vitamin D intake.


Nicely cut and prepared pork, especially from the ribs, can be a rich source of vitamin D. However, it should be taken in a limited amount considering its high cholesterol content.

Take Supplements If You Have A Deficiency

As we just saw, you may not be able to get enough vitamin D through your food alone. So supplements are a good and often essential way of addressing a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is available in 2 forms as supplements – ergocalciferol (D2) and cholecalciferol (D3). Both of these are effective at increasing levels of vitamin D in your blood. But doctors prefer D3 as this is the kind that your body naturally makes from sunlight. Do follow your doctor’s instructions when it comes to taking supplements as excessive amounts of vitamin D can be harmful too.

Where babies are concerned, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends supplements of 400 IU of vitamin D a day till they start consuming at least 1,000 mL of milk or infant formula fortified with vitamin D daily. This is because breastmilk doesn’t supply enough vitamin D to meet your baby’s needs. Also, since babies have delicate skins, too much sun exposure is not recommended for them. Do speak with your pediatrician about this.

You Need 400–800 IU Of Vitamin D Daily Depending On Age

The average recommended daily amount of vitamin D is 400 IU from birth till 12 months, 800 IU for those who are 71 years of age or older, and 600 IU for all others. But some groups may be at particular risk of not getting enough vitamin D and developing a deficiency. These include:

  • Elderly individuals since their skin tends to lose efficiency in making vitamin D.
  • Dark-skinned people since they may not be able to make enough vitamin D from sunlight.
  • People with disorders like celiac disease or Crohn’s disease since their bodies can’t process fat normally and vitamin D requires fat for its absorption.
  • Obese people since body fat can bind to vitamin D, leading to low levels of this vitamin in the blood.
  • Breastfed babies since breast milk is not a good source of this vitamin.

Do Not Oversupplement

Excessive amounts of vitamin D can be harmful so do not go overboard while taking supplements. Over supplementation can cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting, constipation, poor appetite, weight loss, weakness, disorientation, confusion, and issues with your heart rhythm. It may also damage your kidneys. The upper limit of vitamin D is 1,000 to 1,500 IU per day for babies, 2,500 to 3,000 IU per day for children between the ages of 1 to 8, and 4,000 IU per day for all others. You can’t get too much vitamin D from sun exposure because your body automatically restricts the amount of vitamin D that it produces.

Who Is At Risk Of Vitamin D Deficiency?

Not everybody can have a vitamin D deficiency. However, there are a few common risk factors that point to the fact that you can have such a deficiency. These risk factors are:

  • If you have a dark skin tone.
  • If you’re aged 50 or older.
  • If you’re overweight or obese.
  • If you don’t include vitamin D-rich foods in your diet.
  • If you’re living away from the equator where there is less sunlight year-round.
  • If you prefer staying indoors most of the time.

How Can You Treat Vitamin D Deficiency?

Now that you know how important it is to have sufficient vitamin D levels to maintain a healthy stay, it is also vital that you know what’s the best way forward if your vitamin D levels do drop. Fortunately, a vitamin D deficiency is easy to treat. You can either increase your sunlight exposure or eat more vitamin D-rich foods.

Vitamin D forms in your skin in response to sunlight, but make sure you avoid burning or over-exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D is also found in foods such as fish, eggs, beef liver, cheese, dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals.

What is vitamin D?

A person may experience vitamin D deficiency if they do not get exposure to enough sunlight.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that the body produces when the skin gets exposed to sunlight.

It is present in a small number of foods, including fortified products.

When vitamin D enters the body, it is not in an active form.

To use it, the body needs to convert it to an active form called 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] or calcidiol.

There are 5 forms of Vitamin D and collectively they are known as calciferol.

  1. Vitamin D1 is as molecular compound of ergocalciferol with lumisterol.
  2. Vitamin D2 is made of ergosterol. It is produced in invertebrates, fungus, and plants in response to sunlight. Humans and other vertebrates do not produce Vitamin D2.
  3. Vitamin D3 is made in the skin when 7 dehyrocholestrol reacts with ultra violet light. A human requires 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure at least twice a week on the face, arms and back without sunscreen with a greater than 3 UV index for adequate amounts of Vitamin D3 synthesis.
  4. Vitamin D4 is dihydroegocalciferol.
  5. Vitamin D5 is made up of 7 dehydositosterol.

How much is a deficiency?

The results of a serum vitamin D blood test may show the following:

  • Too high and possibly harmful: 125 nmol/l or more
  • Sufficient: 50–125 nmol/l
  • At risk of inadequacy: 30–49 nmol/l
  • At risk of deficiency: 30 nmol/l or less

Functions of vitamin D

Vitamin D has many important functions, including:

  • supporting bone health by enabling the absorption of calcium
  • promoting muscle health
  • modulating the immune system
  • aiding cell growth
  • reducing inflammation, which helps prevent diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis
  • regulating blood pressure and supporting cardiovascular health

Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms In Children:

  • Babies with severe Vitamin deficiency can get muscle cramps, seizure and breathing difficulties. This problem is mainly due to low levels of calcium.
  • Children with severe deficiency may have soft skull and leg bones. “Bow legged” or curved leg is often a symptom of Vitamin D deficiency. Children may also complain of bone pains and muscle weakness. This condition is known as rickets.
  • Vitamin D deficient children often have poor growth. Height is usually affected more than weight. Affected children also face difficulty in walking.
  • Children with Vitamin D deficiency may be teething late as the development of the milk teeth is affected.
  • Irritability is often due to Vitamin D deficiency.
  • They are also prone to respiratory issues and infections. Breathing can be affected because of weak chest muscle.
  • When rickets become very severe, it can cause low level of calcium in the blood.
  • Vitamin D deficiency also causes cardiomyopathy, weakness of heart muscle.

Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms In Adults:

  • In case of severe deficiency, there might also be severe pain and also weakness.
  • Muscle weakness may cause difficulty in climbing stairs or getting up from the floor or a low chair, or can lead to the person walking with a waddling pattern.
  • Bones can feel painful to moderate pressure.
  • People have a hairline fracture in the bone which causes tenderness and pain. Bone pain also occurs in the lower back, hips, pelvis, thighs and feet.

Causes of a deficiency

  • Limited exposure to sunlight is one of the major and most common reasons for Vitamin D deficiency. Our body makes Vitamin D only if it is exposed to sunlight. Keeping yourself homebound will worsen the situation.
  • The pigment melanin reduces the skin‘s ability to absorb Vitamin D. Thus darker skinned people are at risk of Vitamin D deficiency, especially older people with darker skin.
  • Vitamin D deficiency also occurs if your kidneys fail to convert Vitamin D into its active form, as when people age, their kidneys are less able to convert Vitamin D into its active form.
  • Obesity also affects Vitamin D absorption. Vitamin D is extracted from the blood by fat cells, altering its release into the circulation. People with a mass weight of 30 or greater often have low blood level of Vitamin D.
  • Certain medical problems also hinder vitamin D absorption. Disease like Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis and celiac disease can affect intestine’s ability to absorb Vitamin from the food you eat.

Vitamin D plays a significant role in many of the major body functions and in absence of the right amounts can lead to what we refer to as vitamin D deficiency diseases. The probability of identifying and proceeding with vitamin D deficiency treatment is very low which why in this case prevention is better than cure.

Health Benefits of Vitamin D

Here are the some of the benefits of taking vitamin d.

  1. It helps the intestine to absorb nutrients, calcium and phosphorus. This ensures strong bones and a healthy immune system.
  2. Vitamin D prevents osteomalacia, which causes weakness in the muscular system and brittle bones. It is mostly prevalent in adults with Vitamin D deficiency.
  3. Vitamin D provides calcium balance in the body and prevents arthritis.
  4. Vitamin D regulates blood pressure and reduces stress and tension. It also relieves body aches and pains by reducing muscle spasms. It also reduces respiratory infection.
  5. Vitamin D also helps to differentiate between cells, aids in insulin secretion and helps to fight depression.
  6. Vitamin D is recommended in the treatment of several diseases. It may prevent preeclampsia by improving kidney functions.
  7. It also prevents cancer by controlling abnormal multiplication of cancer. Research has indicated that people with low level of Vitamin D have a significantly lower risk of developing cancer, as compared to people with adequate level of Vitamin D.
  8. Vitamin D optimizes our body’s ability to absorb other important weight loss nutrients, especially calcium. If our body lacks calcium, it can lead to up to 5 fold increase in fatty acids synthesis, an enzyme that converts calories into fats. By fuelling our bodies with Vitamin D rich nutrients, you can potentially lose weight up to 60 %.
  9. It is an important way to arm the immune system against disorders like cold and flu.
  10. Vitamin D also improves eye sight of children. A couple of hours daily outdoors will help their growing eyeballs to develop properly and will prevent nearsightedness.
  11. It also reduces the risk of developing sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis is much less common near the tropics where there is ample sunlight.
  12. Vitamin D keeps the brain active even at later stages of life. It also helps to maintain body weight.
  13. It reduces the severity and frequency of asthma symptoms
  14. A form of Vitamin D provides protection against damage from low levels of radiation.
  15. High doses of Vitamin D also help people to recover from Tuberculosis as quickly as possible.
  16. Vitamin D also helps to improve mental sharpness. People who have foods with high content of Vitamin D have superior memory and information processing capabilities than those with lower level of the sunshine Vitamin
  17. Low level of Vitamin D may increase the risk of heart attacks and early death.

Vitamin D Benefits For Skin

The state of your skin is a good indication of your health. Vitamin D offers not only a variety of health benefits but is also beneficial for the skin.

  1. Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3 are most beneficial for skin health.
  2. Vitamin D Cream or supplements can be effective for treatment of psoriasis. 20. Vitamin D also repairs skin damage prevents infections that might be caused due to skin injuries and rejuvenate the skin.
  3. One of the most well-known uses for Vitamin D in terms of skin is its treatment of psoriasis. Psoriasis symptoms include itchy and flaky skin, which can heal by the topical application of Vitamin D cream or by having prescribed Vitamin D supplements.
  4. Vitamin D3 contains strong anti-inflammatory properties which make it effective for treating burns, skin injuries, skin damage and stretch marks. Thus vitamin D is mostly added in creams and lotions for its anti-inflammatory properties.
  5. The anti-oxidant present in Vitamin D prevents skin damage and premature ageing of skin when taken via supplements or included in diet. Adequate skin exposure can also provide relief from these symptoms
  6. Scientist are of the view that Vitamin D absorbed through limited exposure to the sun might prevent skin damage and sunburns by strengthening the skin. Opponents of this theory opine that excess of sun exposure is likely to be the main cause for most skin cancers. This issue had caused major disagreement in the scientific community. So most medical professionals advise people to limit exposure to sun and take vitamin D supplements to prevent Vitamin D deficiency.
  7. Vitamin D also helps to treat eczema and is a potential saviour of rosacea sufferers. Enzymes in the skin of rosacea sufferers can cause them to produce antimicrobial peptides in an abnormal form

Vitamin D Benefits For Hair

One of the best way to gain strong and thick hair growth is to include vitamin D rich source foods in your diet.  Benefits of vitamin d for hair include the following:

Lack of Vitamin D can also cause hair loss. Vitamin D is found in healthy hair follicles and is generally lacking in unhealthy follicles. Vitamin reduces stress, and depression has often been linked to hair loss and various other problems. It is always good to reduce stress and live a happy life.

Vitamin D is also a precursor to the hair growth cycle. Vitamin D acts on the keratinocytes to initiate hair follicle cycling and stimulate hair growth. 28. Vitamin D gets converted to calcidiol when present in liver. This further gets converted by the kidneys calcitriol which is a form of active Vitamin D. This regulates cellular apoptosis which helps to regulate the cycle of the hair follicle. Technically, the cycle of hair follicle goes from:

  1. Anagen (growing) to
  2. Catagen (receding) to
  3. Telogen (resting) phase.

There are also Vitamin D receptors in hair follicles. Many different processes are involved in new hair formation from the follicle and Vitamin D plays a major role. Vitamin D receptors in the hair follicle have to be fed in the growing phase. This is why Vitamin D and hair deficiency go together. Studies have also shown that inhibiting Vitamin D receptors can cause hair loss. Depriving the body totally of Vitamin D will not provide necessary building blocks essential to hair growth. While Vitamin D deficiency leads to hair loss, the opposite might not be true. Overconsumption of Vitamin D will not lead to hair growth in itself. Once the hair follicle dies, it no longer goes through the cycle mentioned above. The hair follicle has to be active for Vitamin D to show any help. Thus it is important to prevent hair fall in early stages. Looking at the benefits of vitamin D we must ensure that we get adequate doses of it from sunlight and from our diet. Always consider a doctor before popping pills as overdose of vitamin D can be harmful. Take vitamin pills on your doctor’s advice and enjoy the sunshine. Stay fit, stay healthy!

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