Contributed by: Priyaish Srivastava
Did you know?
- Vitamin D is also a hormone
- The body makes vitamin D naturally
- Vitamin D is also known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’
- The simplest way of getting vitamin D is 5 to 30 minutes of exposure to sunlight
- The best time to get vitamin D from the sun is between 10 AM and 3 PM
- Vitamin D deficiency is an epidemic in India, as around 70% to 100% general population is vitamin D deficient
The ‘sunshine vitamin’ is a fat-soluble vitamin that manages almost every physiological function of the body. It is a workhorse nutrient and performs important functions such as absorbing calcium, strengthening bones, and enhancing immunity. There are many forms of vitamin D, but the most crucial ones are vitamin D3 and vitamin D2.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that protects you from a host of health complications like osteoporosis, hypertension, several cancer types, and even autoimmune diseases. However, despite all these facts, there’s a prevalent misconception that the more vitamin D a person gets, the better. It’s a dangerous notion to believe in as excess intake of vitamin D3 can lead to severe health complications.
Vitamin D is biologically inert and its activation requires undergoing two processes. The first process takes place in the liver to convert vitamin D into a prohormone called ‘calcidiol’ (stored vitamin D in the body) and the second process takes place in the kidneys to activate calcidiol into a hormone called ‘calcitriol’.
To activate the pre-existing vitamin D, experts recommend sun exposure for around 5 to 30 minutes between 10 AM and 3 PM. This process has to be followed at least twice a week and one should ensure that the face, hands, legs, or back are directly exposed to the UV rays with no sunscreen applied.
However, the amount of sun exposure one needs hugely depends on the location, season, skin type, exposed body parts, age, and air quality in the area.
In this article, we will discuss the factors that lead to vitamin D deficiency, its symptoms, the risk factors of vitamin D deficiency, and how you can obtain sufficient levels of vitamin D.
Causes of vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency is a very serious concern, especially in India. Some factors that give rise to this condition include:
- Not getting enough vitamin D from the diet
- Inability to absorb enough vitamin D from food
- Reduced exposure to sunlight
- Chronic kidney diseases or chronic liver illnesses that affect vitamin D synthesis
- Certain medications that interfere with the process of vitamin D absorption and conversion
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency & surplus
The body can manifest certain symptoms if it lacks a sufficient amount of vitamin D or if the nutrient is present in surplus (a rare condition). A vitamin D deficient body may or may not produce symptoms, or it may take several years for the manifestation. But, it does increase the chances of getting affected by chronic illnesses, such as:
- Osteoporosis: A condition in which bones become thin or brittle and may break easily as a result of minor trauma. The condition mostly affects older people.
- Osteomalacia: The condition usually occurs in children, giving rise to bone deformities, dental problems, fragile bones, and pain while walking.
- Vitamin D deficiency can give rise to depression.
Vitamin D toxicity is the condition in which the body gets surplus vitamin D. The ailment may manifest signs like nausea, vomiting, constipation, weight loss, weakness, poor appetite, and can also lead to kidney damage and hypercalcemia (high levels of calcium in the blood). Hypercalcemia results in confusion, disorientation, and heart rhythm complications.
Functions of vitamin D
Vitamin D is without a doubt one of the most important nutrients required for the overall well-being of the body. It performs various important functions, which include:
- Promoting bone health and enabling calcium absorption
- Improving muscle health
- Modulating the immune system
- Promoting cell growth
- Reducing inflammation, which prevents the occurrence of rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis
- Upgrading cardiovascular health
- Regulating blood pressure
Who is at risk of vitamin D deficiency?
- Breastfed infants
- People who take medicines that affect vitamin D synthesis
- People with lymphoma (a type of cancer)
- Older adults
- People with dark skin
- People suffering from Crohn’s disease or an autoimmune disorder called celiac disease
- Obese people
- People who underwent gastric bypass surgery
- Those who have osteoporosis
- People with chronic kidney or liver complications
- People with hyperthyroidism
- People who smoke
Experts recommend seeking immediate medical assistance if you have any of the above-mentioned risk factors for vitamin D deficiency.
Tips to increase vitamin D levels
There are a few easily available foods that naturally contain a small amount of vitamin D, these include:
- Egg yolks
- Milk, cheese, other dairy products
- Breakfast cereals and oatmeals
- Soy drinks
Many multivitamin supplements contain vitamin D. There are vitamin D supplements also available that can help in managing the deficiency. If a person is vitamin D deficient, he/she can take these supplements after consulting their health care providers to improve the levels of vitamin D.
The doctor will diagnose the condition and recommend the number of supplements to take and how long the prescription should be followed.
Vitamin D deficiency is the most prevalent vitamin deficiency in India which requires medical attention as it can lead to severe health complications.
The manifestation of vitamin D deficiency symptoms may take years or may not even occur, thus experts recommend that those who are liable for the aforesaid risk factors should get regularly checked for vitamin D levels to avoid any health complications related to vitamin D deficiency. When diagnosed early, the deficiency can also be managed by proper sunlight exposure, certain foods, and supplements.