Vitamin D3 Deficiency – What Is It, Causes, Symptoms, Diseases & Treatments August 9, 2016

“To all my little Hulkamaniacs, say your prayers, take your vitamins and you will never go wrong.” Hulk Hogan

The God of fitness, Hulk Hogan sure sends the right message across. The Guy has been a fitness role model since ages and still looks good in his 60’s. Vitamins are essential for the growth and development of the body. You need not take only supplements. Various foods are rich in vitamins and your daily dosage may be gleaned from these foods also. Vitamin D3 is one of the main nutrients for our bodies. Let us look at the benefits of Vitamin D3 and how best we can incorporate it in our lives.

What Is Vitamin D3?

Vitamin D3 or Cholecalciferol is the only vitamin that is manufactured by the human body itself when it is exposed to ultraviolet rays of the sun. Thus, it is often referred to as ‘sunshine vitamin’. This vitamin has a vital role to play in our overall health. In fact, it is both a vitamin and a hormone.

  • As a vitamin, it facilitates calcium absorption. It is important for bone and teeth health.
  • It prevents the loss of bone mass and other bone related disorders like rheumatoid arthritis.
  • It is converted into a hormone by the human body. This vitamin is derived from 7-dehydrocholesterol but it is converted into 1, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 or Calcitriol by the liver and kidneys.
  • Calcitriol acts as a hormone to control levels of phosphorus, calcium and bone metabolism as well as neuromuscular function.

Though vitamin D3 can be obtained from sunshine, there are several foods which are good sources of this vitamin. These include fish like salmon, tuna, sardines and fish products like cod liver oil. It is also present in smaller quantities in fortified milk, eggs, bread and cereals. Apart from this, vitamin D3 supplements are also available.

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Vitamin D3 Deficiency:

Vitamin D3 is one of the most underrated vitamins. No doubt, a large number of people suffer from vitamin D3 deficiency. This vitamin is vital for bone health. If your body is deficient in vitamin D3, it will not be able to absorb sufficient amounts of calcium. Thus, it adversely affects your bones. The table given below shows the recommended doses of vitamin D3 prescribed by the National Institute of Health and Institute of Medicine.

Below 50200 IUs
50- 71400 IUs
Above 71600 IUs

The safe upper limit for intake of this vitamin is 10000 International Units (IUs). Since this vitamin is rare in food sources, most of the people fail to get the recommended dose of vitamin D3. Similarly, people not getting adequate sunlight are often at the risk of suffering from this deficiency.

Causes of Vitamin D3 Deficiency:

Vitamin D3 is primarily obtained from sunlight. Hence, the underlying vitamin D3 deficiency causes are also related to this factor. The following factors contribute to the deficiency of vitamin D3.

1. Inadequate Exposure to Sunlight:

Our body requires the sun’s ultraviolet rays to manufacture vitamin D3. At least 15 minutes exposure to sunlight is recommended to get the required amount of vitamin D3. However, those who mostly stay indoors or in regions where there is less sunshine are not able to get the recommended exposure and suffer from its deficiency.

[ Read: Skin ]

2. Use of Sunscreens:

The fear of skin cancer and sun tan forces us to use sunscreen before venturing out in the sunlight. Sunscreens with high SPF prevent our bodies from absorbing the beneficial amounts of sunlight. Our skin uses the energy from UVB rays to convert 7-dehydrocholesterol into vitamin D3. Those who use suntan lotions are often deficient in vitamin D3.

3. Progression of Age:

Age is also a factor that can cause vitamin D3 deficiency. As we age, our body becomes less equipped to produce sufficient quantities of vitamin D3.Older people require greater amounts of this vitamin due to age related decline in kidney function.

4. Inadequate Intake from Food Sources:

According to the National Institute of Health, the highest source of vitamin D3 is fish and fish products like cod liver oil. There are very few vegetarian sources of this vitamin. Foods like fortified milk, breads and cereals contain this vitamin in small quantities. Hence, vegetarians are more likely to suffer from vitamin D3 deficiency.

Risk Factors:

Though vitamin D3 deficiency can affect anyone, there are certain people who are at a greater risk of suffering from this deficiency. This may be because their requirements of vitamin D3 are greater than others. They are:

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women, particularly young women and teenagers.
  • Infants and children below the age of 5 years.
  • People aged 65 years and above.
  • People with dark complexion such as those of African, African Caribbean and South Asian origin.
  • Housebound people or those who stay covered up or wear a veil for cultural reasons.

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Symptoms of Vitamin D3 Deficiency:

The symptoms of vitamin D3 deficiency cannot be easily identified. These symptoms range from mild to serious. They can be broadly classified into 3 categories namely skin, thyroid and neurologic symptoms.

1. Skin:

Dry skin is the most common symptom of vitamin D3 deficiency. It is mostly caused due to the lack of antioxidants. Vitamin D3 plays an important role in preventing premature ageing. It makes your skin supple. Vitamin D3 creams are often prescribed to treat skin problems like psoriasis and acne.

2. Thyroid Gland:

Vitamin D3 is crucial for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland. Vitamin D3 deficiency symptoms are also related to the functioning of the thyroid gland. The presence of vitamin D3 in the cells is vital for the thyroid hormone to affect the cell. Even the treatments for thyroid using herbs, progesterone or raising T3 levels require the right amount of vitamin D3 to be effective.

3. Neurological Symptoms:

Men and women usually suffer from neurologic symptoms of vitamin D3 deficiency. Vitamin D3 helps control the relaxation of skeletal and involuntary muscles. Deficiency symptoms of vitamin D3 include cramping and constriction of blood vessels. This results in an increase in blood pressure, thus increasing the likelihood of migraines and headaches. This pressure ultimately leads to anxiety, depression, insomnia and hopelessness, or in extreme cases, schizophrenia.

4. Rickets:

Vitamin D3 plays an important role in bone health by facilitating calcium absorption. Thus, the bone disease rickets is the most prominent symptom of vitamin D3 deficiency. It is mainly caused due to the inability of the body to bind and absorb calcium and phosphate. This can be attributed to inadequate levels of vitamin D3 in the body.


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5. Cognitive Difficulties:

Vitamin D3 is also essential for our cognition. One study has indicated that people deficient in vitamin D3 have poorer mental function. Thus, older adults need greater amounts of this vitamin through supplementation.

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Diseases Caused By Vitamin D3 Deficiency:

Vitamin D3 deficiency should not be taken lightly as it leads to a host of other health problems. Inadequate level of vitamin D3 is associated with the following ailments.

1. Depression:

Vitamin D3 deficiency is quite common in older adults and can cause several psychiatric and neurological disorders. This deficiency is responsible for low mood and impaired cognitive performance including Alzheimer’s disease. Side effects of vitamin D3 deficiency include mood changes such as depression, particularly seasonal affective disorders (SAD) and trouble with memory and concentration. This is because vitamin D3 is necessary for creating the building blocks that produce the neurotransmitters involved in maintaining the emotional balance. Thus, people who mostly stay indoors often suffer from anxiety and depression.

2. Bone Disorders:

Vitamin D3 is known for its ability to improve bone health as well as the health of the musculoskeletal system. Deficiency of this vitamin causes Osteopenia and triggers Osteoporosis, leading to a painful bone disease known as Osteomalacia. It also contributes to muscle weakness, thus increasing the risk of falls and fractures. Insufficient intake of vitamin D3 can manipulate the regulatory mechanisms of parathyroid hormone (PTH), causing a secondary hyperparathyroidism that further increases the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

3. Back Pain:

Vitamin D3 deficiency can cause several musculoskeletal disorders. According to the latest studies, low levels of vitamin D3 contributed to the development of chronic low back pain in women.

4. Hair Loss:

It is indeed surprising but vitamin D3 deficiency is also associated with hair loss. Certain studies have observed that people who mostly stay indoors have inadequate levels of vitamin D3 and often suffer from hair loss. It is extremely important to have the right amount of vitamin D3 as excess of this vitamin can also cause hair loss.

5. Rheumatoid Arthritis:

Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful autoimmune disorder which is caused when the body’s tissues are attacked by its own immune system. It is characterized by swelling and intense pain in the joints. Vitamin D3 helps in regulating the immune system. Therefore, deficiency of this vitamin not only increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis but also makes its patients more susceptible to cardiovascular diseases. According to a research conducted by John Hopkins University School of Medicine, 41% of rheumatoid arthritis patients had significantly low levels of vitamin D3.

6. Multiple Sclerosis:

Multiple sclerosis is a condition where the immune system attacks the coating which protects the nerve cells. Low blood levels of vitamin D3 are responsible for increased number of brain lesions particularly in people with multiple sclerosis. Adequate level of vitamin D3 has a protective effect and hence, reduces the risk of developing multiple sclerosis. It also helps in reducing the effect in those suffering from multiple sclerosis.

Vitamin D3 Deficiency Treatments:

Anyone can suffer from vitamin D3 deficiency and it can lead to long term health problems when left untreated. Diagnosis of this deficiency can be done by taking the 25-hydroxyvitamin D test. 25-hydroxyvitamin D is converted to an active form of the vitamin in the kidney. This active form of vitamin helps in controlling the levels of calcium and phosphate in the body and can be measured through a blood test. Let’s look at the ways to treat the deficiency of D3

1. Sun Exposure:

Getting adequate exposure to sunlight is the most effective way of raising your vitamin D3 levels. You do not have to sweat out for hours in the sun. Spending 10 to 15 minutes a day in direct sunlight without sunscreen with your arms, legs, face or back exposed is enough to get vitamin D3 to supply your needs. The ideal amount of sunlight that your body can absorb also depends upon your skin type. People with dark skin need longer exposure to sun than their lighter counterparts. The best time for getting enough vitamin D3 is from 11 am to 3 pm in the months of April to August. Excess of vitamin D3 is stored in the form of fat soluble vitamin in your fat stores and liver, for use during winter. These stores generally last for 30 to 60 days.

2. Foods:

There are very few foods which naturally supply vitamin D3. Some of the dietary sources include beef liver, cheese, eggs and fatty fish which contain small quantities of vitamin D3. Cod liver oil is a rich source of this vitamin. Apart from this, fortified milk and orange juice also contain vitamin D3. So, another way to increase the level of vitamin D3 is to increase the consumption of these foods.


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3. Supplements:

Several prescription supplements are available which can increase your vitamin D3 intake. However, these should be taken under the guidance of the physician as they are accompanied by various side effects and sometimes can also cause allergic reactions. While taking vitamin D3 supplements, other vitamin or mineral supplements should be avoided except on the recommendation of your doctor. Avoid using antacids unless your doctor advises you. These antacids contain different minerals which can cause serious side effects when taken together. Use the specific type of antacid recommended by your doctor. The table given below shows the recommended amounts of vitamin D3 for the different risk groups prescribed by the UK Health Department.

Infants and young children aged 6 months to 5 years7-8.5 micrograms
Pregnant and breastfeeding women10 µg
People above 65 years of age10 micrograms
People with little or no sun exposure10 micrograms

Thus, vitamin D3 plays an important role in the maintenance of overall health. Prevention and treatment of this deficiency not only improves bone health but also minimizes the risk of several ailments.

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