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Vitamin D deficiency

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Vitamin D is extremely important for good health, including healthy bones and the prevention of some cancers and autoimmune disorders. It helps bones absorb calcium and phosphorus, which children, especially, require for bone growth and strength. If there is not enough calcium in the bloodstream, the body compensates by drawing the calcium and phosphorus from the bones to put in back into the blood. Since vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, a lack of it can cause weak or soft bones. However, it isn’t clear to doctors or researchers just how much vitamin D is enough. The most recent recommendations indicate that 800 to 1000 IUs (international units) would benefit most people.

VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

Some people, however, are at increased risk for vitamin D deficiency. These include people whose bodies can’t absorb fat, such as those with celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, liver deficiency, pancreatic insufficiency, or cystic fibrosis. Others who are at risk for vitamin D deficiency are people with darker skin, people with limited sun exposure, older people, and babies who are only breastfed.

Vitamin D comes from two major sources: sunlight and food. Exposure to sunlight causes your skin to produce vitamin D. It is the most common way for adults and teens to acquire it, and people who stay mostly indoors may have a deficiency of vitamin D. Food can also provide vitamin D; it is absorbed in the intestines and released into the blood.

One result of a vitamin D deficiency is seen in a disorder called rickets. Rickets is the softening of bones in children, and is the result of a severe and long-term vitamin D deficiency. It can show itself in skeletal deformities, including bowlegs or the spine curving wrong. Adults can get this disorder, too; in them it is called osteomalacia. Lack of vitamin D in the diet used to be the most common cause of rickets and other vitamin D deficiency disorders, but it isn’t as common as it used to be. Babies from six to twenty-four months are at the most risk of rickets because they are growing so fast, and because they should be kept out of direct sunlight, a major source of vitamin D production.

Other symptoms of vitamin D deficiency, including rickets, include fragile bones; if children have rickets, they often have more bone fractures than usual. They may also experience delayed growth; they may be shorter in stature or have shorter arms or legs than usual. They may experience dental problems, including problems with the structure of the teeth, delayed formation of the teeth, more cavities, and poor enamel. Sometimes these problems are accompanied by pain in the bones, especially the spine, pelvis, and legs. The symptoms may also result in muscle weakness, leading to more achiness and difficulty moving.
vitamin d deficiency
Image: Vitamin D Deficiency

VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY DIAGNOSIS

In testing for rickets or osteomalacia, your doctor will first check to make sure the pain you are experiencing is actually coming from your bones and not from your joints or muscles. Then they will take blood tests which will determine your calcium and phosphorus levels; abnormally low levels can indicate a vitamin D deficiency disorder. The doctor may order X-rays to check for soft spots or weak areas. And of course, they will take a complete medical history to see whether you may have kidney problems or celiac disease that is preventing absorption of vitamin D.

VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY TREATMENT

Vitamin D deficiencies are easily treated once they are diagnosed, but if they don’t get diagnosed, and continue untreated, they could present serious complications. A child could have delays in motor skill development, or they could fail to grow and develop normally. You could be more susceptible than normal to serious infections or skeletal deformities, have seizures or dental defects, or fail to grow more than five feet tall.

Many of these vitamin D deficiency disorders can be healed by simply introducing sufficient vitamin D, either through supplements or improved diet. There are some foods and natural sources for vitamin D. Fortified milk has it, as do other fortified dairy products such as cheese and yogurt. Vitamin D can also be absorbed from sunlight. If you don’t get enough of these natural sources, you should ask your doctor if you should take vitamin D supplements. Severe bone deformities caused by vitamin D deficiency can sometimes require surgery. A doctor may recommend special braces which will help a child’s bones grow correctly. Babies, especially are susceptible to vitamin D deficiency disorder because breast milk has very little vitamin D and they should be kept out of direct sunlight. Breast fed babies should be given supplements.


Even though babies and small children should be protected from the sun, they are still the only segment of the population likely to get sufficient vitamin D day by day. Recent studies show that children from age one to age eight were the most likely to get the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin D. About sixty percent were able to get this amount through diet alone; in large part because of the vitamin D fortification found in milk. Small children tend to drink a lot of milk; the exception to this being African-American children, who as a group only get fifty percent of the RDI they should have.

VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY PREVENTION

Vitamin D deficiency is most problematic for those over the age of fifty. Only five percent or less of people in that age group gets their RDI of vitamin D from their diet. Even with supplements, those numbers only reach thirty-five percent for whites, seventeen percent of Hispanics, and ten percent of blacks. African-Americans in general are more susceptible to vitamin D deficiencies, so if you are part of this group, you should talk to your doctor about supplements for yourself or your children. Nursing women also need to be careful to take in more than the RDI of vitamin D. They have to allow for their own recommended daily allowance, but also for that of the nursing infant.
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