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Calcium is recognized as an essential bone-building mineral, but very few people understand the importance of vitamin D for skeletal health.
Without vitamin D, your body will not be able to absorb and metabolize calcium adequately. Thus, the two nutrients work together to keep your bones strong and healthy.
A deficiency of either calcium or vitamin D can pave the way for osteoporosis or rickets, which are skeletal disorders characterized by the weakening, thinning, and softening of bones.
Vitamin D also plays a critical role in muscle function, immunity, and the transmission of neural messages between the brain and body.
What are the common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency?
Most of the people who are vitamin D deficient are asymptomatic (do not have symptoms). However, when the level of this vitamin drops very low, some people may experience fatigue and muscle weakness.
Some observational studies also found an association between low vitamin D levels and feeling sad in winter times. (1)
At the cellular level, vitamin D deficiency can cause decreased calcium absorption that can result in thinning of bones in the long run, leading to a disease called rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults.
Both of these diseases are not common in developed countries. Osteomalacia can cause bone pains, muscle spasm, and difficulty walking in adults.
How does sunlight increase the amount of vitamin D in the body?
When exposed to UVB radiation from sunlight, your skin converts the vitamin D precursor (a form of cholesterol) to vitamin D, which becomes active after going through the liver and kidneys.
The color of the skin does impact the formation of vitamin D. Melanin, which gives your skin its color, hinders the absorption of UV rays, which in turn deters the formation of vitamin D.
Thus, dark-skinned people tend to have lower vitamin D levels than fair-skinned people due to the increased melanin in their skin.
Can a lack of vitamin D lead to weight gain?
Vitamin D deficiency has not been known to cause weight gain, but obese people are more prone to this condition.
What is the difference between vitamin D2 and D3?
Depending upon its source, vitamin D can be classified into two major forms:
- Vitamin D2
- Vitamin D3
Vitamin D2 can solely be derived from external sources such as vegetables and supplements, whereas vitamin D3 can be produced by the body. The skin forms vitamin D3 when it is exposed to UVB radiation from the sun or released from tanning beds.
Because sun exposure is a major prerequisite for meeting most of your vitamin D needs, this vital nutrient is also referred to as the “sunshine vitamin.” You can also supplement part of your vitamin D3 requirement from:
- Fatty fish
- Dairy foods fortified with vitamin D
- Vitamins containing D3
One common feature of both these forms of vitamin D, however, is that they do not become active until they pass through the liver.
Can low amounts of vitamin D in the body lead to dizziness?
Vitamin D deficiency has not been known to cause dizziness. However, it has been connected to fatigue, muscle spasm, and weakness in general.
What dietary modifications should be made when suffering from vitamin D deficiency?
Include mushrooms, small fish, fortified milk, and egg yolk in your diet. Also, expose your bare arms and legs to the sun without sunscreen for 15 minutes to help raise your vitamin D levels.
What are the normal levels of vitamin D that should be present in the body?
The normal range for vitamin D is above 20 ng/ml, although the International Osteoporosis Foundation recommends a minimum level of 30 ng/ml. (2)
Remember that it takes a long time for vitamin D levels to go up in the body as it is a fat-soluble vitamin. Testing more than once a year is typically not recommended.
What is the best treatment plan for vitamin D deficiency?
Vitamin D deficiency is typically treated with supplements since the amount of vitamin D found in food sources is not enough. The prescribed dosage will vary depending upon the patients’ blood levels of vitamin D.
Until very recently, the recommendation was to supplement with high-dose vitamin D if your level was less than 20 ng/mL. However, this recommendation changed, and now a daily dose of a small amount ranging from 3000 to 5000 IU is recommended. (5)
Does vitamin D boost energy and improve metabolism?
Vitamin D deficiency is linked to fatigue, which has been shown to improve with vitamin D supplementation. No correlation between vitamin D and metabolism/BMR has been found.
What is the ideal time to take vitamin D supplements?
Vitamin D can be taken at any time without regard to meals, which means it can be taken with or without food.
Are there factors that can predispose an individual to vitamin D deficiency?
Yes, people who are obese, dark-skinned, taking certain prescription medications, or hospitalized are at a higher risk for vitamin D deficiency.
Essentially anybody who has not been getting enough sun exposure is at high risk for vitamin D deficiency.
Can a low level of vitamin D be a sign of cancer?
A low level of vitamin D is not a sign of cancer. Still, cross-sectional studies found an association between low vitamin D levels and certain cancers, especially gastrointestinal-related cancers. More studies are needed on this topic. (8)(9)
Moreover, people who have cancer tend to have worse outcomes if they are low on vitamin D.
Does vitamin D increase estrogen in women and progesterone in men?
No, vitamin D is considered a hormone, but no impact has been seen on estrogen and progesterone.
Does vitamin D help in breast growth?
No, vitamin D has not been shown to have any effect on breast growth.
What are the best ways to increase the levels of vitamin D in the body?
The generally reccomended dosage of vitamin D supplements for adults lies anywhere between 600 to 1000 IU. (10) Fifteen minutes of sunlight exposure on the arms and legs without sunscreen also helps improve the levels.
Vitamin D deficiency is very common, particularly in dark-skinned people and those who spend most of their time indoors. This condition usually manifests without any noticeable symptoms in adults.
There is a minimum level of vitamin D needed by the body in order to absorb calcium and maintain homeostasis.
Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, certain cancers including gastrointestinal cancers, and autoimmune diseases.
People who are at high risk for vitamin D deficiency should be tested and take a replacement supplement based on the levels. A minimum level of 20 ng/ml should be maintained, but higher levels up to 48 ng/ml might be helpful. (2) High-dose supplementation for prolonged periods without testing is not recommended.