20 Symptoms and Health Conditions Associated With Vitamin D Deficiency (Are You Deficient?)

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Vitamin D insufficiency affects almost 50 percent of the population worldwide. An estimated 1 billion people across all ethnicities and age groups lack enough of this vitamin, which is crucial for your overall well-being according to research.“Vitamin D deficiency (VDD) is underappreciated condition that can impact your health significantly and can be fairly easily treated,” Jennifer Franceschelli-Hosterman, DO, Geisigner Health System, says.

Here are 20 Signs and Symptoms That You Are Vitamin D Deficient

1. Weaker bones

Vitamin D is unique because the body synthesizes it itself through exposure to sunshine, and it plays a huge role in calcium balance, Dr. Franceschelli-Hosterman says. It helps bones mineralize, and it promotes growth and maintenance of strong bones, she adds. Studies have found “widespread and alarming” rates of Vitamin D deficiency in patients with metastatic bone disease.

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2. Heart problems

Research has pointed to Vitamin D deficiency as a risk factor for heart attacks, congestive heart failure, peripheral arterial disease (PAD), and the conditions associated with cardiovascular disease, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. People with low levels of Vitamin D (versus the optimal level) were 64 percent more likely to have a heart attack and had an 81 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease, research suggests.

3. Diabetes prevention

Vitamin D helps in the regulation of insulin, Dr. Franceschelli-Hosterman says, and this way it helps prevent diabetes as it also affects glucose metabolism. Studies have shown significant improvements in Fasting Plasma Glucose and insulin after treatment with Vitamin D, suggesting that Vitamin D supplementation could reduce insulin resistance.

4. Cognitive impairment

Vitamin D receptors are widespread in brain tissue, and Vitamin D’s biologically active form has shown neuroprotective effects including the clearance of amyloid plaques, a trademark of Alzheimer’s disease. Associations have been noted between low levels of Vitamin D and Alzheimer’s as well as dementia in both Europe and the U.S. The risk of cognitive impairment was up to four times greater in severely deficient adults. Other large studies have indicated that low Vitamin D concentrations may increase the risk of cognitive decline.

5. Risk increases with age

Older people are more at risk of needing help with changing Vitamin D to a usable form, Dr. Franceschelli-Hosterman says. A few factors that contribute to this are decreased dietary intake, diminished sunlight exposure, reduced skin thickness, impaired intestinal absorption, and impaired kidneys which are less able to convert Vitamin D to its active form, research shows.

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6. Mood changes

Mood changes, similar to SAD or “winter blues,” can be a symptom of Vitamin D deficiency, Dr. Franceschelli-Hosterman says. “There are several different pathways through which Vitamin D improves mood and reduces chronic pain.” The vitamin acts as a hormone that helps release endorphins, including serotonin, in the brain, she adds.

7. Cancer

Studies have investigated whether people with higher Vitamin D intakes or higher blood levels of Vitamin D have lower risks of specific cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute. The cancers for which the most human data are available are colorectal, breast, prostate, and pancreatic cancer. Research suggests that Vitamin D acts as an anti-tumor agent by regulating genes involved in the spread of cancer cells.

8. Obesity

Obesity and being overweight increases the body’s need for the vitamin because of the higher amount of fat tissue, Dr. Franceschelli-Hosterman says. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin extracted from the blood by fat cells, altering its release into circulation. “[Obese people] have more trouble converting Vitamin D to a more usable form and often need 2 to 3 times the usual daily dose.”

9. Controlling blood pressure

High blood pressure causes your arteries to stretch beyond normal. Sometimes the body can produce too many cells in the muscle that lines your blood vessels, which can lead to plaque. Researchers have found Vitamin D receptors on these cells, and Vitamin D can bind to these receptors. This may help to reduce the risk of cells building up in your blood vessels.

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10. Rickets

This is a condition caused by lack of Vitamin D in kids, Dr. Franceschelli-Hosterman says, and it leads to weakening of the bones. Low levels of the vitamin in the body may produce hormones that cause calcium and phosphate to be released from the bones, leading to frail and soft bones, according to the National Institutes of Health.

11. Multiple sclerosis

Research is increasingly pointing to a reduced level of Vitamin D in the blood as a risk factor for developing MS, and studies are underway to determine if Vitamin D levels influence MS disease activity, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Medical reviews have shown that among people with early-stage MS, those with higher blood levels of Vitamin D had better outcomes during five years of follow-up.

12. Sunscreen

Sunscreen blocks the UV radiation which is responsible for helping make Vitamin D, Dr. Franceschelli-Hosterman says. Spending five to 15 minutes outside two or three times a week can be enough, she adds. “Increasing sun exposure is not always recommended as a way to improve Vitamin D levels,” Franceschelli-Hosterman says. “You can improve dietary intake of foods rich in Vitamin D or take supplements.”

13. Gut problems

There is rapidly increasing epidemiological and strong experimental evidence suggesting a role for Vitamin D in inflammatory bowel disease, which is a chronic illness that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. Vitamin D may help the immune system to reduce levels of inflammatory proteins that get overproduced, according to the Vitamin D Council.

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14. Vegan diet

If you are on a strict vegan diet, you are at a higher risk of Vitamin D deficiency because many of the natural sources of the vitamin are animal-based. Foods that are high in Vitamin D include tuna, salmon, fortified juices and cereal, mushrooms, Dr. Franceschelli-Hosterman says. “Cod liver oil is very rich in Vitamin D.” People can also take supplements. Most have Vitamin D3, which is what’s added to cereals and orange juices.

15. You don’t go out much

There is a reason why Vitamin D is called “the sunshine vitamin.” Sunlight helps the body produce it – sunshine is needed for ultraviolet-B (UVB)-induced Vitamin D production in the skin. The rays hitting the skin enable cells to manufacture Vitamin D. If you don’t want to be in the sun for too long, go in the afternoon when the sun is brightest. About 10 minutes can help produce between 10,000 and 25,000 international units of the vitamin.

16. Sweaty head

This is an odd symptom, but excess sweating in the head as opposed to the rest of the body has been associated with low Vitamin D levels. Excessive sweating in newborns due to neuromuscular irritability is still described as a common early symptom of Vitamin D deficiency, according to Mayo Clinic.

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17. Darker skin

People with darker skin can also have trouble synthesizing Vitamin D, Dr. Franceschelli-Hosterman says. The problem is that the pigment melanin, which causes skin darkening, reduces the skin’s ability to make Vitamin D after being exposed to the sun. Research has shown that people with darker skin are at high risk of Vitamin D deficiency.

18. No symptoms at all

It is common for people to feel no symptoms until they develop severe Vitamin D deficiency, Franceschelli-Hosterman says. Some signs of mild insufficiency are generally subtle and non-specific – fatigue, back pain, muscle pain – so people don’t realize they may have a problem.

19. You Are Sleepy and Fatigued

In one 2012 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, lower levels of vitamin D were linked to higher levels of daytime fatigue and sleepiness.

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20. You’re 50 or Older

As you get older your skin doesn’t make as much vitamin D in response to sun exposure. At the same time, your kidneys become less efficient at converting vitamin D into the form used by your body and older adults tend to spend more time indoors (i.e. getting even less sun exposure and therefore vitamin D).

What To Do If You’re Vitamin D Deficient

Researchers have pointed out that increasing levels of vitamin D3 among the general population could prevent chronic diseases that claim nearly one million lives throughout the world each year.

Vitamin D also fights infections, including colds and the flu, as it regulates the expression of genes that influence your immune system to attack and destroy bacteria and viruses.

Some steps you can take to maintain healthy vitamin D levels include:

  • getting out in the sun without sunscreen on for 15 minutes each day
  • taking a multivitamin that contains vitamin D
  • eating foods that are high in vitamin D
  • purchasing and eating foods that are fortified with vitamin D, such as cereals and milk

Eating a healthy diet with fortified foods and getting some sun exposure when possible can help you keep your vitamin D at healthy levels.

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