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8 Health Problems And Diseases Caused By Vitamin D Deficiency

Disorders Caused Due To Vitamin D Deficiency

A vitamin D deficiency can leave you with weak bones from osteopenia or osteoporosis. It could cause mental health issues like depression and schizophrenia or hamper cognitive ability and bring on dementia in the elderly. Skin problems like eczema are also possible, so take a good hard look at your vitamin D numbers.

Vitamin D is important for:

 

  • Maintaining normal immune and neuromuscular function
  • Modulating cell growth
  • Lowering inflammation in the body
  • Supporting nutrients like calcium in the development, growth, upkeep, and repair of your bones1

Vitamin D is a nutrient that you can easily take for granted. Your body can produce this vitamin but only when exposed to sunlight. But many are shockingly low on it due to the limited sun exposure modern lifestyles allows. But what are the downsides of a vitamin D deficiency? Are they enough to warrant concern? After you read this, you might find yourself stocking up on those vitamin D-rich foods and making a beeline for that sunny spot on the bus or in the park.

Vitamin D: The Vitamin We Could Have Enough Of, But Don’t

Unlike many other nutrients that need to be consumed via food or supplements because the body can’t produce them, vitamin D is a nutrient your system can actually make on its own  – but only when the conditions are right.

Since vitamin D is fat-soluble, the human body is capable of producing and storing it when you expose your skin directly to sunlight. But an annual summer vacation to sunny climes or a weekend spot of outdoor running may not be enough to make up for the woefully inadequate amount of sun time most of us get all week long. Which is why it isn’t uncommon to hear of people who live much of their lives indoors – like seniors, those in care homes, or people whose jobs or lifestyles keep them indoors – having a vitamin D deficiency. Even those who cover their skin up when outdoors could be at risk even if they get in long hours in the sun – because the sun needs to fall directly on your skin for your body’s vitamin D production mechanism to kick in.2

As a result, many people today don’t have enough vitamin D in their bodies and need to bridge the gap via vitamin D rich foods in their diet. Assuming the average lifestyle with minimal sun exposure, you’d need to ensure you get 15 mcg of vitamin D via your food if you are 70 years old or under, and 20 mcg daily when you are over 70. For that, you’d need to eat oily fish like salmon, sardines, tuna, or mackerel, or have fortified foods like cereals, milk, yogurt, margarine, or juices that contain added vitamin D. Eggs, mushrooms, and organ meat are other sources.3 Fail to do that and you run the very real risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency, the fallout of which could be quite serious.

To give you an idea of why you shouldn’t ignore a vitamin D deficiency, here’s a look at some diseases caused by inadequate intake of the nutrient.

1. Rickets

Rickets is a bone condition that impacts children who have a vitamin D deficiency. The illness causes the child’s bones to become very soft and weak.4

Other causes: It may also occur due to very low calcium and phosphorus levels.5

Symptoms to watch out for: Here are signs of rickets to be on the lookout for:6

  • Bone pain
  • Tenderness in the bones
  • Impaired growth of the child
  • Deformities in the bones of the child
  • Deformities in the teeth

Who’s at risk: Dark-skinned children and those who don’t go outdoors much or have a diet low in vitamin D may be more at risk.7

2. Osteopenia

Osteopenia, not to be confused with osteoporosis, is also a form of weak bones but in a less severe form. It affects nearly half the population of Americans over 50 years. This condition is marked by a bone density that is not in the normal range but it isn’t as bad as in osteoporosis.8

Symptoms to watch out for: The challenge with osteopenia is that it doesn’t have any noticeable or visible symptoms. You may actually discover it only after you break a bone or have some form of fracture after a fall. It is best to take preventive measures like improving sunlight exposure and eating a calcium- and vitamin D-rich diet if you feel you may be at risk. In addition, get a bone density test done to check if you have the problem.

3. Osteoporosis

An estimated 54 million Americans either already have osteoporosis or have low bone mass, which raises their risk of osteoporosis. This condition which causes bones to become weak as bone density decreases may result in fractures, render you immobile, or interfere with your normal life by preventing you from being as active as before. It could even result in the need for surgery and long-term nursing care.9

Symptoms to watch out for: Unfortunately, osteoporosis is often a silent disease not visibly causing any symptoms even as your bone density continues to drop. Taking a test to measure the density is a surefire way of knowing if you have the problem.

A bone density test result with a T-score of -2.5 or below is flagged as osteoporosis.10 11 That said, there are a couple of symptoms you can watch out for:

  • Hunched posture
  • Change in posture
  • Apparent loss of height

Your spine may start to bend and curve or compress due to the weakness, causing minuscule fractures that result in these symptoms. You may also be more prone to fractures.

Other causes and those at risk: Vitamin D is one of the causes of osteoporosis.12 But it may also be the result of other health problems such as:

  • Autoimmune disorders like lupus or multiple sclerosis
  • Digestive/gastrointestinal disorders like celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease
  • Neurological/nervous system disorders like a stroke or Parkinson’s disease
  • Hematologic/blood disorders like sickle cell disease, multiple myeloma, leukemia or lymphoma
  • Cancer
  • Blood and bone marrow disorders
  • Mental illness like eating disorders or depression
  • Endocrine/Hormonal Disorders like Diabetes, hyperthyroidism, Cushing’s syndrome
  • AIDS/HIV
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Scoliosis

In addition to these, injuries to the spinal cord, weight loss surgery, and organ transplants may also raise your risk of the condition. Certain medication like proton pump inhibitors, glucocorticoids, thyroid hormones, and cancer chemotherapeutic drugs could also bring on the problem.

4. Low Mood and Depression

A vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to low mood and even depression.13

Symptoms to watch out for: Depression may present itself in behavioral and emotional changes or even manifest as physical symptoms.14 Here’s what to watch out for:

  • Feeling of emptiness
  • Anxiety and sadness
  • Sense of hopelessness, pessimism
  • Being irritable
  • Feeling worthless or helpless
  • Feeling guilty
  • Loss of interest in things you once loved or activities you normally enjoyed
  • Fatigue
  • Low energy levels
  • Slower speech
  • Slower movement
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty with decision making
  • Forgetfulness
  • Loss of sleep, trouble falling asleep, oversleeping, or early-morning awakening
  • Appetite loss
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Unexplained headaches
  • Unexplained cramps or digestive problems
  • Unexplained aches and pains

Other causes and those at risk: Depression may be linked to certain other conditions or risk factors.15 These include:

  • Having a family history of depression
  • Having certain illnesses like Parkinson’s disease, cancer, diabetes, or heart disease
  • Major life events that bring on stress or trauma

5. Secondary Hyperparathyroidism

Having a vitamin D deficiency has been connected to secondary hyperparathyroidism in which the parathyroid glands become hyperactive and enlarged.16 17

Symptoms to watch out for: The production of higher than normal levels of parathyroid hormone are responsible for symptoms below:18

  • Weakened bones
  • Calciphylaxis, a condition that causes calcium to clump on your skin, resulting in ulcers and, later, the death of the tissue around it.
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Problems with fat metabolism
  • Problems with sugar metabolism
  • Itchiness/pruritis
  • Anemia (low blood counts)

Other causes: Besides a vitamin D deficiency, having kidney disease may cause you to develop secondary hyperparathyroidism.19

6. Dementia And Cognitive Impairment In The Elderly

Impaired cognitive performance in the elderly can sometimes be connected to a vitamin D deficiency.20 One group of researchers determined that having a vitamin D deficiency was linked to an increased risk of both Alzheimer’s disease as well as all-cause dementia.21

Symptoms to watch out for: When someone has mild cognitive impairment, it may rear its head in these forms:22

  • Memory loss
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Confusion (about place/time)
  • Difficulty following a conversation
  • Trouble finding words to express oneself
  • Mood changes
  • Difficulty with day to day activities which were part of the normal routine
  • Confusion over little things like finding the right change while out shopping

Other causes: Dementia can take multiple forms, with Alzheimer’s disease being one of the most common. This problem is the result of damage to brain cells from one or more reasons like:23

  • High protein levels within and outside your brain cells
  • Stroke – vascular dementia may occur in the aftermath of a stroke
  • Side effect of medications you’re taking like those for allergies or depression
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Depression
  • Thyroid problems
  • Vitamin B1 or B12 deficiency24

Who’s at risk: Certain people are more at risk of this issue than others:25

  • Adults aged 65 and over
  • Having a family member with dementia also raises your risk – and the more close relatives (parent/sibling) you have with dementia, the higher your risk
  • Having head injuries
  • Having heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or having a stroke
  • Being Latin American or African American

7. Schizophrenia

Researchers have uncovered a strong link between vitamin D deficiency and mental illness/chronic brain disorder schizophrenia. However, as they caution, clinical trials on a larger scale are needed before this connection can be fully confirmed.26

Symptoms to watch out for: If you’re trying to observe whether schizophrenia is at play in someone’s condition, look for these signs:2728:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Concentration issues
  • Motivation problems with starting or completing tasks
  • Dysfunctional manner of thinking
  • Difficulty with decision making
  • Agitated movements of the body
  • Less talking than usual
  • Loss of/reduced pleasure from daily activities
  • Absence of/reduced emotions expressed on face/in tone of voice

Who’s at risk: While genes may play a role in schizophrenia, it is still not known which genes or combination of genes raise your risk. However, environmental factors like exposure to viruses, problems during your birth, malnutrition before you were born, and psychosocial factors like your home environment affect risk of this illness.29

8. Eczema

If you’ve heard that some skin diseases are caused by vitamin D deficiency, you may be onto something. The Vitamin D Council says that while the causes of eczema aren’t fully understood as yet, there does seem to be a connection between having low vitamin D levels and this skin problem.30

Symptoms to watch out for: Eczema isn’t contagious but results in some fairly uncomfortable symptoms:31

  • Inflammation of the skin
  • Red or grayish colored patches on the skin
  • Rough and dry skin
  • Cracked skin
  • Scaly skin
  • Small bumps on your skin
  • Severe itchiness
  • Raw, sensitive skin

Who’s at risk: Certain people are more at risk of having eczema, including those with a family history of the problem, women, and children born to older moms. Living in very cold places or cities/industrialized places also put you at greater risk.32

Other causes: While the causes of eczema are as yet unknown, exposure to certain things like dust, smoke, pollution, sand, perfumes, and chlorine can cause the problem to flare up. Illness, infection, or stress may also trigger eczema.33

There are also other diseases that may indirectly be connected to a vitamin D deficiency like dental caries, asthma, flu, allergies, cancer, high blood pressure, and even diabetes. However, these links are not strong enough or have not been adequately proven by large studies or clinical trials yet.

There has been some buzz around vitamin D deficiency being linked to cardiovascular health problems. Although some studies connect a deficiency to a raised risk of hypertension, ischemic heart disease, heart failure, and sudden cardiac death, studies have been small and the researchers suggest that large randomized clinical trials on vitamin D need to be done before this connection can be confirmed.34 As the British Foundation explains, though a low level of vitamin D in the body is noticed in those at greater risk of cardiovascular disease, this may not be the cause of the raised risk. Instead, there may be other lifestyle factors at play that affect both cardiovascular disease risk and vitamin D levels.35 For instance, a diet low in nutrients or the lack of outdoor time exercising may both result in poor cardiovascular health and low vitamin D levels.

References   [ + ]

1, 3. Vitamin D. Office of Dietary Supplements.
2. Vitamin D. National Health Service.
4, 5, 6, 7. Rickets. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
8. Osteopenia: When you have weak bones, but not osteoporosis. Harvard Health Publishing.
9, 12. Osteoporosis. National Osteoporosis Foundation.
10. Bone Density Exam/Testing. National Osteoporosis Foundation.
11. Does osteoporosis cause any symptoms?  Harvard Health Publishing.
13. Anglin, Rebecca ES, Zainab Samaan, Stephen D. Walter, and Sarah D. McDonald. “Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: systematic review and meta-analysis.” The British journal of psychiatry 202, no. 2 (2013): 100-107.
14, 15. Depression. The National Institute of Mental Health Information Resource Center.
16. Fairfield, Kathleen M., and Robert H. Fletcher. “Vitamins for chronic disease prevention in adults: scientific review.” Jama 287, no. 23 (2002): 3116-3126.
17, 19. Secondary hyperparathyroidism. Columbia University Medical Center.
18. Secondary hyperparathyroidism. The American Association of Endocrine Surgeons.
20. Wilkins, Consuelo H., Yvette I. Sheline, Catherine M. Roe, Stanley J. Birge, and John C. Morris. “Vitamin D deficiency is associated with low mood and worse cognitive performance in older adults.” The American journal of geriatric psychiatry 14, no. 12 (2006): 1032-1040.
21. Littlejohns, Thomas J., William E. Henley, Iain A. Lang, Cedric Annweiler, Olivier Beauchet, Paulo HM Chaves, Linda Fried et al. “Vitamin D and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer disease.” Neurology 83, no. 10 (2014): 920-928.
22. Symptoms of dementia. National Health Service.
23. What Is Dementia? Alzheimer’s Association.
24. Dementia due to metabolic causes. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
25. Risk Factors. Alzheimer’s Association.
26. Valipour, Ghazaleh, Parvane Saneei, and Ahmad Esmaillzadeh. “Serum vitamin D levels in relation to schizophrenia: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 99, no. 10 (2014): 3863-3872.
27. What Is Schizophrenia? American Psychiatric Association.
28, 29. Schizophrenia. The National Institute of Mental Health Information Resource Center.
30, 33. Eczema. Vitamin D Council.
31, 32. Eczema.Vitamin D Council.
34. Judd, Suzanne E., and Vin Tangpricha. “Vitamin D deficiency and risk for cardiovascular disease.” The American journal of the medical sciences 338, no. 1 (2009): 40-44.
35. Will vitamin D protect your heart? British Heart Foundation.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.