7 signs you may be vitamin D deficient


by Andrea McKnight, MD

Jul 17, 2020

Have you noticed that vitamin D has been a hot topic in the news recently? Vitamin D plays an important role in the overall health of your entire body — especially helping boost your immune system to fight infections. 

Let’s talk more about vitamin D’s role in the body, signs that you may be deficient and how we can boost it.

Vitamin D exposure 

Our main source of vitamin D is sunlight. It is produced when your skin is exposed to the UV rays of the sun. 

However, vitamin D can also be absorbed through our diet. It has been added to many foods that we eat, but the foods with the highest amount of vitamin D may not be something you eat on a regular basis such as cod liver oil, swordfish, salmon and tuna. Many milk products have extra vitamin D added to them, even non-lactose alternatives like almond milk, which I’m sure the lactose-intolerant and plant-based people out there are happy to hear!

Causes of Vitamin D deficiency

Many different medical conditions can contribute to vitamin D deficiency. These conditions can include: 

  • Obesity
  • Kidney disease 

Other conditions or factors may affect the absorption of vitamins in the gut like:

  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Crohn’s
  • Celiac disease
  • Weight loss surgery

Many people may be deficient in vitamin D even without these conditions. There are many medications that can also affect vitamin D levels, including:

  • Steroids
  • Antiseizure medicines
  • Antacids/reflux medicines 
  • Cholesterol-lowering medicines

7 signs of vitamin D deficiency

1. Bone pains and lower back pains

People of all ages can have worsening bone pains with low vitamin D levels, especially lower back pains. My older patients often blame their age for the majority of their joint pains, when there may be more factors involved. Although vitamin D may not be the only source of your pains, it may be making your joint pains worse. 

2. Fatigue

There are many different things in your life that can contribute to your energy levels, like your sleep habits, diet, exercise habits, mood and medical conditions. If you are struggling with fatigue, especially if there is not an obvious source — like an illness or poor sleep habits — you may want to have your vitamin levels checked. Many people can slowly lose vitamin levels over time without realizing it and blame their fatigue on the hustle and bustle of everyday life. 

3. Muscle aches and cramps

Vitamin D receptors have been linked to pain-sensing receptors in the body. As we discussed with joint pains, vitamin D deficiency can also lead to more muscle aches, cramps and even muscle weakness. Vitamin D supplements have been shown to reduce the risk of falls by helping with muscle strength. 

4. Bone loss and osteoporosis 

Vitamin D is useful in building healthy bones with the addition of other substances like calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D and calcium help keep bones strong and healthy. Weak bone density can lead to osteoporosis, causing fragile bones and increasing the risk of bone fractures over time, especially for men over age 70 and women over age 50. 

Related: 12 signs you might have a thiamine deficiency

5. Mood changes and depression

Similar to fatigue, there are many different factors that affect our day-to-day mood. For anyone experiencing persistently “down” or depressed moods, I recommend you talk to your doctor to ensure there are no health conditions or vitamin deficiencies contributing to the way you’re feeling. As with joint pains, vitamin D deficiency may not be the main cause of your depression, but it may be making it worse. 

6. More frequent illnesses and suppressed immune system

Vitamin D plays an important role in helping boost your immune system. Along with other supplements like zinc and vitamin C, having a healthy vitamin D level can help fight off infections like upper respiratory infections, colds, viruses and bronchitis. 

7. Prolonged wound healing

Apart from helping fight off infections, vitamin D also helps your body heal wounds. This is partially due to the fact that it helps prevent wound infection, but it also helps in various ways in the healing process. It is important for anyone with a chronic wound like a foot/leg ulcer to be sure they are getting enough vitamin D. 

Boosting your levels of Vitamin D 

If you are looking to boost your vitamin D levels naturally, besides increasing vitamin D in your diet, consider spending small amounts of time — around 15-20 minutes per day — in the sun several days per week. Darker skin tones and sunscreen use affect vitamin D production, so take this into consideration. But please, be careful and avoid getting a sunburn.

You may also want to take a vitamin D supplement. The amount of vitamin D a person needs varies by age, health conditions, medicine intake and weight. Because vitamin D is stored in the body’s fat (known as a “fat soluble” vitamin), it is possible to get too much vitamin D, which can be harmful. I recommend having your vitamin D levels checked before starting any vitamin D supplement greater than 1,000 IU daily to ensure it is healthy to add this into your regimen. 

In general, vitamin D has been shown to play a much more crucial role in our health than we previously knew. We already know that vitamin D has been shown to reduce or improve even significant health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and even certain cancers (prostate, colon and breast). There are still many studies being done to determine connections between vitamin D and other health conditions. 

As always, if you are experiencing concerning symptoms, please talk to your doctor to determine the next step for your health. 

Curious about your vitamin D levels? Make an appointment today or explore our virtual care options.

About the Author

Andrea McKnight, MD, is a family medicine physician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Family Medical Center - North Garland.

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