Vitamin D deficiency refers to a lack of vitamin D present in a person’s body. Vitamin D is unique in that it is the only vitamin that the body produces on its own. It does this through exposure to sunlight. Still, many people suffer from a lack of this vitamin.
A recent U.S. study claims that as many as 3 million people are deficient in vitamin D. It is especially common among African Americans, for people with dark skin produce less vitamin D when they are exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet light.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are sometimes so subtle that many people who have a deficiency might ignore them. When symptoms appear, they can include:
Complications of vitamin D deficiency include inadequate absorption of calcium. Vitamin D and calcium work intimately together and can’t function well without each other. Vitamin D deficiency also causes the body to retain phosphorus in the kidneys, which is why so many symptoms of the deficiency affect the bones. Children are at risk for a disease called Rickets, where the bones of the skull, legs, spine and other areas become soft. An adult form of rickets called Osteomalacia is also a result of vitamin D deficiency. Untreated vitamin D deficiency may lead to a condition called Tetany. This causes muscles to be numb, tingling, and go into spasm. Since the thyroid gland needs vitamin D to produce the hormone, the person may suffer from symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Vitamin D deficiency can be confirmed through a medical examination, tests of the blood and urine, and imaging tests of the patient’s bones. A patient’s general practitioner can usually make this determination and they may recommend a nutritionist.
Vitamin D can easily be prevented if the person gets the recommended amount. Nutritionists say that most people should get at least 400 to 600 International Units of vitamin D a day. People who stay indoors a lot should get as much as 1000 IU.
Treatment does not require surgery unless the patient has such extreme bone loss that they need a prosthetic. Usually, the person needs to get out into the sun more, take a supplement, or eat foods rich in vitamin D. These foods include: