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Deficiency of Vitamin D: Symptoms, causes and latest trends

  • Posted on- Oct 01, 2015
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Written by site author.

Vitamin D is essential for calcium metabolism and bone growth, as well as for maintenance of mental health in children and adults. Around 80% of the vitamin D requirement of our body is fulfilled through its synthesis from cholesterol in a sunlight-dependent manner, and hence it is also known as the 'sunshine vitamin'. The dietary sources of this vitamin are very few, and mainly include oily fish like salmon, mackerel and herring.

Reduction in the levels of vitamin D, or hypovitaminosis D, may occur due to limited exposure to sunshine, defects in the synthesis and absorption processes or due to insufficient dietary intake. The initial symptoms arising due to a lack of vitamin D include fatigue, bone and joint pain, muscle aches and twitching, etc. Prolonged deficiency leads to rickets and osteomalacia which are known as the classical vitamin D deficiency diseases.

Initial signs and symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency


Vitamin D being a crucial component of several vital processes including bone mineralization, its deficiency leads to skeletal as well as non-skeletal health issues.

Skeletal Problems

Vitamin D deficiency results in lowered absorption of calcium from the intestines which in turn lead to low calcium in blood. In order to cope with this, calcium is reabsorbed from the bones thereby leading to reduced bone mineral density (osteopenia). This leads to the following health issues:

Rickets
It refers to the skeletal deformities occurring in children owing to a deficiency or malabsorption of vitamin D or calcium or phosphate. It leads to softening of bones and delayed dental growth. The child has low muscular strength, and often tires out easily. The normal skeletal growth of children gets hampered resulting in a short stature. Other signs and symptoms include:

Osteomalacia
The softening of bones in adults, occurring due to vitamin D deficiency is termed as osteomalacia. It is characterized by widespread bone pain, especially in the hips, along with low calcium levels. In addition, the individual may experience:
  • Numbness in the limbs
  • Numbness near the mouth
  • Muscle spasticity
  • Bending of bones
  • Easy fractures without any injury

Poor Oral Health
Low vitamin D is associated with tooth loss and dental caries. Apart from maintaining dental strength, vitamin D is also responsible for the production of defensins that help to combat oral infections. Hence, low amount of this vitamin increases the susceptibility to gum infections, and leads to gum inflammation, gum tenderness and bleeding gums.

Non-skeletal Problems

Vitamin D serves as an important functional component of the neural system, immune system as well as the endocrine system of the body. Hence, its deficiency results in the following non-skeletal health concerns as well.

Winter Blues
Mood swings, depression and general malaise can be attributed to the lack of vitamin D. It is also one of the causes for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a disorder characterized by depressed mood during winters. Other symptoms include:
  • Social withdrawal
  • Hopelessness
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Suicidal tendencies (in extreme cases)

Sleep Disorders
Hypovitaminosis D has been identified as the aetiology behind several sleep disorders, owing to the presence of vitamin D receptors in the brain tissue associated with sleep. These include:
  • Insomnia
  • Sleep apnoea (disturbed breathing during sleep)
  • Somniloquy (talking while asleep)
  • Excessive daytime sleeping

Neurological Problems
Lack of vitamin D has been identified as one of the reasons behind poor cognitive development in children, and lowered cognitive functions in adults. It is also one of the etiological factors for dementia characterized by:
  • Forgetfulness
  • Confusion
  • Loss of social skills
  • Poor judgment
  • Difficulty in performing regular tasks

Compromised Immunity
In addition to the several roles performed by this vitamin, it also regulates the production of chemical messengers of the immune system as well as the activation of certain immune cells. It is serves an important component of the innate immune system by regulating the production of antimicrobial peptides in the skin. Being so, low vitamin D levels render the individual more susceptible to colds, skin infections including staph infections, and even respiratory tract infections.

Causes of Vitamin D deficiency

The active and functional form of vitamin D is derived through a variety of processes, and hence low levels of the active form can be the result of:
  • Minimal exposure to sunlight
  • Dietary inadequacy
  • Chronic kidney failure
  • Lowered absorption of vitamin D from the intestines
  • Hyperpigmentation and dark skin colour
  • Excessive use of sunblocks
  • Hereditary factors
  • Old age

Changing approach towards Vitamin D

Up until recently, most of us didn’t often check Vitamin D levels in children. Sure, significant Vitamin D deficiency can cause bone problems such as rickets. Unless rickets was suspected, Vitamin D levels were hardly ever checked. But things have changed – we now go looking for Vitamin D deficiency all the time because there have been some good recent studies in the medical literature that have ascribed new importance to Vitamin D, not only for bone health, but also in the prevention of some diseases long term, such as cardiovascular disease, and more significantly for children, brain growth and development.

If your child is Vitamin D deficient, this can easily be corrected with a Vitamin D supplement. This does come as a liquid, allowing for easy administration to children. Generally speaking, multivitamins in addition to the specific Vitamin D supplement are not required in children, unless they have a specific chronic disease that prevents the appropriate absorption of vitamins and minerals from the diet.

Comments

user profile image
21-04-2016 09:55 AM

Great information shared. Will try to keep all these points in mind and take care of the baby.

user profile image
11-11-2015 08:16 PM

My son has went through this problem, he was Vitamin D deficient because he didn’t get enough sunlight exposure.

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