Signs and symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency

Written by valerie liles
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Signs and symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency
A severe vitamin D deficiency can result in rickets in children. (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Whilst having properties of both a vitamin and a hormone, vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin, is required for the absorption and utilisation of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D supports regulation of the heartbeat, muscle strength, and the growth and development of bones and teeth in children. Known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D was isolated in 1930 from cod liver oil by Dr. E Mallanby.

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Deficiency symptoms in children

In children, a vitamin D deficiency can cause unnatural limb posture with resultant pain and discomfort, excessive sweating, a delayed ability to stand and knock-knees or bow legs. With the advent of video games, adolescents are more prone to becoming deficient in vitamin D due to a lack of outdoor exercise and the fact that they no longer drink milk, which is often fortified with vitamin D. When sun exposure is sufficient, supplemental D, or diet sources are not necessary.

Deficiency symptom in adults

In adults, a vitamin D deficiency can cause bone pain, muscular weakness, muscles spasms and brittle bones, which can cause severe fractures and difficult healing. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, individuals living in the upper third of the continental United States cannot produce adequate amounts of vitamin D from exposure to the limited available sunlight during the winter months. In areas of limited sunshine, supplements can be very helpful in avoiding symptoms of deficiency.

Mode of action and cause of deficiency

When you expose your skin, particularly your face, to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, a cholesterol compound in the skin transforms into a precursor of vitamin D. According to, doing this for at least 10 minutes daily is an effective way to maintain adequate amounts of vitamin D in the body. Causes of vitamin D deficiency include a lack of meat, poultry, fish and dairy product in the diet, particularly amongst the elderly and those on low incomes.

Severe deficiency

Osteomalacia in adults is often the result of a severe vitamin D deficiency. A similar disorder called rickets occurs in children. Signs of a lesser degree of deficiency, in both adults and children, often present as a loss of appetite, a burning sensation in the mouth and throat, diarrhoea, insomnia, visual problems and weight loss. According to a July 2007 article in the "The New England of Medicine," there are indications that vitamin D deficiency is much more widespread than previously thought, especially in older adults.

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