Vitamin D deficiency, popularly called vitamin D deficiency, is one of the most frequent nutritional disorders worldwide. According to some studies, it is estimated that 1 billion people have insufficiency or deficiency of this substance. ( 1 )
And in Brazil, the scenario is no different. Although we live in a tropical country, and therefore with a high incidence of sunlight, hypovitaminosis D is also a common problem. Thus, it is not restricted to some population groups, and may affect children, adolescents, pregnant women, men and the elderly.
According to nutritionist Creuza Nunes, this deficiency picture is a serious problem in any society. That’s because vitamin D plays a key role in bone health, preventing fractures, rickets and helping to treat osteoporosis.
But those aren’t the only benefits of this nutrient. “It is important to highlight that adequate serum levels of this vitamin have been associated with the prevention of cancer, diabetes mellitus, autoimmune, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases”, explains the nutrition professional.
What are the symptoms of lack of vitamin D?
Also according to the nutritionist, reduced bone density, muscle weakness and bone pain are the main symptoms related to vitamin D deficiency. But in addition to these signs, the patient with hypovitaminosis D may present tiredness and fatigue.
However, these signs only appear after the presence of low serum levels of this nutrient. That is, symptoms can appear after reduced levels of this substance in the body, for a long period of time. ( 2 )
Generally speaking, this deficiency leads to rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults (weakness of the bones). In addition, “higher incidence of infections, lethargy, irritation, worsening of chronic diseases (eg rheumatoid arthritis), generalized pain , and particularly in the lumbar region, muscle and bone” may occur . ( 2 )
Diseases caused by the absence of this nutrient
The number of diseases related to the absence of vitamin D is large, since this problem can lead to the appearance and also the aggravation of some pathologies. According to Creuza Nunes, this deficiency can reduce the patient’s immunity.
Therefore, “it is suggested that vitamin D and its analogues not only prevent the development of autoimmune diseases but could also be used in their treatment.” ( 3 )
According to some studies, the following diseases may be related to a lack of vitamin D in the body:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Undifferentiated connective tissue disease (DITC)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Diabetes melito type 1
- Inflammatory skin diseases ( 3 )
Lack of vitamin D fattening?
According to some studies, a lack of vitamin D in the body may be related to obesity. This is because reduced concentrations of this substance are often observed in obese patients.
“It is speculated that vitamin D insufficiency is not only a consequence of lower sun exposure in obese individuals, but also one of the factors that trigger the accumulation of body fat.” ( 4 )
Thus, it is believed that the fat cells of the obese (cells that accumulate fat) are the deposit of vitamin D. With this, there is a decrease in the bioavailability of this nutrient in the body. Consequently, it results in stimulation of the hypothalamus, increasing the sensation of hunger and decreasing energy expenditure. ( 4 , 5 )
Therefore, a lack of vitamin D can cause weight gain or hinder the weight loss process. However, this can only be observed and detected by a nutrition specialist.
In addition, it is important to highlight that the vitamin D present in the body, even in adequate amounts, is not enough to promote weight loss. For this to occur, it is necessary for the individual to seek a nutritionist for an assessment and associate good nutrition with the constant practice of sports.
Vitamin D sources
The two main sources of vitamin D are cutaneous synthesis and food. However, experts say that approximately 90% of this substance is acquired through sun exposure, and less than 10% obtained from food sources. ( 1 )
But in addition to these two forms, it is possible to obtain vitamin D through supplementation. In this case, it is recommended to seek help from a nutrition professional, since both the shortage and excess of this nutrient can be harmful to the body.
As many may know, the main source of vitamin D is sun exposure. But to get the nutrient in this way, it is necessary to take into account some essential precautions.
For example, black-skinned people are more resistant to receiving ultraviolet rays, due to the presence of melanin that blocks radiation. In these cases, it is recommended to stay exposed to the sun for a longer period of time. But always taking into account the times of lesser incidence, which are in the morning or the end of the day.
For white-skinned people, solar radiation does not find it more difficult to enter the skin. Therefore, Creuza Nunes recommends exposure for 15 to 20 minutes a day, “with as much of the body exposed as possible and without application of sunscreen.”
Vitamin D rich foods
As can be seen, most foods rich in this vitamin are of animal origin. Therefore, vegetarians and vegans are more likely to be deficient in this nutrient. But to combat hypovitaminosis D, nutritionists recommend sun exposure and, in some cases, supplementation.
“In addition to the sun, it is possible to get the vitamin through vitamin supplements, orally (drops or pills) daily or weekly, when necessary. In this case, do not take vitamin D supplements on your own, as the excess can pose serious health risks if taken for several months,” warns Creuza.
Although rare, vitamin D poisoning exists and can cause a major imbalance in the body. That’s why the supplementation must be done with a monitoring of the nutrition professional.
Among the symptoms of intoxication are: “loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, constipation, polyuria, polydipsia, disorientation, weight loss and, in some cases, it can lead to renal failure.” ( 6 )
Frequently Asked Questions
Even with all the data and information presented in this article, some people may have specific doubts about the lack of vitamin D in the body. Taking this audience into account, Remédio Caseiro separated the most frequent questions on this topic and answered each one of them below:
1) What diseases cause lack of vitamin D?
Intestinal malabsorption syndromes can cause lack of vitamin D, such as cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and cholestasis. In addition, other factors can trigger this nutrient deficiency, such as bariatric surgery, obesity, vegetarian diet and the use of some medications. ( 1 )
2) What is the correct level of vitamin D?
In the table below, it is possible to check the serum levels of vitamin D measured in plasma levels of 25(OH)D ( 4 ):
3) What are the risks of lack of vitamin D in childhood, pregnancy and old age?
According to nutritionist Creuza Nunes, children can suffer from rickets when they do not have adequate levels of vitamin D. Thus, the lack of this nutrient can cause bone deformity and short stature.
In the case of pregnant women, “the lack of this vitamin can lead to miscarriages in the first trimester. At the end of pregnancy, the lack of the nutrient can lead to pre-eclampsia and increase the chances of the child being autistic”, explains the professional.
With regard to the elderly, care should be even more redoubled to avoid the lack of this vitamin. This is because the absence of the nutrient can reduce muscle strength and increase bone fragility, increasing the risk of falls and fractures in old age.
Vitamin D Benefits
Given all that has been exposed, it is clear how a lack of vitamin D is harmful to the body. According to Creuza Nunes, this nutrient is responsible for metabolizing calcium and phosphorus in our body, being essential for bone health.
The benefits of vitamin D include increased immunity and reduced risk of infections and other autoimmune diseases in the human body. (3) In addition, this nutrient can help fight various health problems, such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. (4)