10 Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms You Can Identify Yourself

Weight gain, low bone density, fatigue, joint pain, and depression are just a few symptoms of vitamin D deficiency.

vitamin d deficiency symptoms

Long-term use of antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) is associated with vitamin D deficiency symptoms, even in sub-tropical countries, according to a study at the University of Malaya.

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Doctors believed many decades ago that vitamin D was good only for healthy bones and teeth, but research has since proven otherwise. Vitamin D deficiency symptoms now have been linked to numerous health problems, including heart disease, depression, and even cancer.[1] In fact, a recent study conducted by Boston University researchers revealed vitamin D deficiency actually affects your DNA: “Any improvement in vitamin D status will significantly affect expression of genes that have a wide variety of biologic functions of more than 160 pathways linked to cancer, autoimmune disorders and cardiovascular disease.”

So, what are the signs of vitamin D deficiency?

First, you need to determine whether you have one or more vitamin D deficiency symptoms; they’re commonly overlooked and often dismissed as normal, everyday aches and pains. Next, you’ll order a vitamin D deficiency test (more on that below, or by clicking here).

Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms: Common Ailments

Here’s a list of 10 of the most common symptoms of low vitamin D:

  1. Weight gain
  2. Bone softening (low bone density) or fractures
  3. Fatigue and generalized weakness
  4. Muscle cramps and weakness
  5. Joint pain (most noticeable in the back and knees)
  6. Blood sugar issues
  7. Low immunity
  8. Low calcium levels in the blood
  9. Mood changes and irritability
  10. Depression
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Depression and Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms

It’s No. 10 on the list above that we’ll examine more closely here. After all, the link between depression and vit D deficiency symptoms has long been established in both children and adults.

Vitamin D is available in two different forms–D3 and D2. Research has shown that the connection between vitamin D and depression relief is linked to the D3 form—the same form of vitamin D that is obtained through sunlight. Scientists have found that people with the lowest levels of vitamin D were 11 times more prone to be depressed than those who had normal levels.[2]

Vitamin D deficiency is actually more the norm than the exception, and has previously been implicated in both psychiatric and neurological disorders. Why? There are vitamin D receptors in the brain, and the vitamin may affect proteins in the brain known to play a role in mood, learning and memory, motor control, and possibly even maternal and social behavior.[3]

There may be more to your depression than low vitamin D levels. Other causes of depression include poor adrenal function (adrenal fatigue), neurotransmitter imbalance (serotonin and dopamine, for example), sex hormone imbalance (estrogen, testosterone), environmental factors, or other nutrient deficiencies (magnesium, for instance, and omega-3s).

Why Does It Matter If I Have Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms?

Vitamin D is the superstar nutrient you don’t want to be without! Vitamin D deficiency symptoms in women and men, if left untreated, can lead to serious health problems such as:

What Causes Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms?

  1. Inadequate exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D is unlike any other vitamin because it is a “pro-hormone” produced in the skin with sunlight exposure. In particular, the sun is the main source of Vitamin D3, a type of vitamin D that increases levels of “feel-good” chemicals in the brain called dopamine and serotonin. (Deficient levels of either of these neurochemicals can be an underlying cause of depression.)
  2. Getting a lack vitamin D from your food. Although the sun’s rays are the primary source of vitamin D, the nutrient can also be found in foods such as fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel and cod), oysters, shrimp, beef liver and eggs.
  3. Age. As you age, your kidneys are less able to convert vitamin D to its active form, calcitriol, which can lead to a deficiency.
  4. Digestive Issues. Problems in the digestive tract can cause inadequate absorption of vitamin D.
  5. Obesity (Body Mass Index greater than 30). Vitamin D is extracted from the blood by fat cells. The more fat in the body, the less vitamin D is released into the circulation.
  6. Kidney or liver disease. Kidney and liver diseases can impair vitamin D conversion to its active form.

Testing for Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms

If you suspect you have a deficiency of vitamin D —or you just want to know for sure—you should ask your doctor for a blood test called the 25-hydroxy vitamin D test (also called the 25-OH vitamin D test or Calcidiol 25-hydroxycholecalciferol test). This test is the most accurate way to measure how much vitamin D is in your body.

To prepare for the test, do not eat for four hours before your appointment. The ”normal” range for vitamin D per most lab reports is 30.0 to 74.0 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL), but virtually all integrative physicians will  recommended a minimum level of at least 50 ng/mL. Any levels below 20 ng/mL are considered serious deficiency states. To get an idea of just how widespread vitamin D deficiency is, consider that the late-winter average of 25-hydroxy vitamin D in the United States is only about 15–18 ng/mL. If you have depression, you are most likely vitamin D-deficient yourself.

Vitamin D Chart

You can also test your own vitamin D blood level without a doctor’s order by using one of the Direct to Consumer Testing Labs.

How to Reverse Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms

Reversing vitamin D deficiency symptoms can be achieved using inexpensive natural remedies:

  1. Go out into the sun. Recommended sunlight exposure should be from 10 to 30 minutes per day. This is a great way of obtaining vitamin D3 and reversing vitamin D3 deficiency symptoms; not to mention, it’s very cost effective!
  2. If getting out in the sun is not an option for you, consider sitting in front of a light box that supplies 10,000 lux of full-spectrum light for 30 minutes every morning. This is an especially good option for winter months, for night shift workers, and for those who live in the upper latitudes where the angle of the sun’s rays do not permit complete production of vitamin D.
  3. Take supplements. For the vast majority of people who want to get their vitamin D levels consistently up above 50 ng/mL, supplementation is the easiest, safest, and most effective way to do so. Adults can take vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) in regular capsule form at levels between 1000 IU and 5000 IU daily.
  4. Vitamin D3 is the most readily absorbable form. After a couple of months of supplementation, run the 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test (by either your doctor or yourself directly) to make sure you’re not overdosing. Adjust your D3 intake accordingly. Although vitamin D overdosing is possible, the reality is far more people will need at least 5000 IU per day to keep their blood level above 50 ng/mL than those that will overdose.
  5. The inexpensive blood testing is the key to knowing where you stand. For children, multivitamins are available over-the-counter; these usually contain vitamin D. However, you should NOT give your child extra vitamin D supplements until consulting your family doctor, pediatrician or an integrative physician that has had specific nutritional training.

START NOW IN YOUR DEPRESSION RECOVERY

Remember, depression can be caused by multiple factors. Overcoming this illness usually takes more than one natural healing technique at a time. In addition to boosting your vitamin D levels, you’ll likely need to take additional supportive nutrients that work synergistically with vitamin D to beat depression for good. Look also to the types of natural depression strategies discussed in our post “8 Tips on How to Cure Depression.”

Tell Us How You Keep Your Vitamin D Levels Above 50 ng/mL

If you use vitamin D3 supplements, tell us about it. Share with us your daily dosage—how much do you take in order to feel good and keep your blood levels above 50 ng/mL?

What other techniques have you found effective in increasing your vitamin D levels?

Scroll down to the “Add Your Comments” section below and give your fellow readers some feedback and encouragement to help them with their vit d deficiency.


[1] JAMA, Nov. 14, 2012; 308(18).

[2] PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e58725.

[3] American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, December 2006; 14(12): 1032-1040.

[4] Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008 May;65(5):508-12.

[5] Br J Psychiatry. 2013 Feb;202:100-7.


This article was originally published in 2013 and has been updated.

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Comments
  • Jana V.

    This is great information I haven’t found in other places. I’m 61 years old and have been supplementing for several years with Vitamin D3 at an amount of 6400 IU per day. I have my Vitamin D levels checked by my doctor each year at my annual physical exam blood lab and here are my 25 – Hydroxy Vitamin D lab results for the last three years:
    6/27/2012: 63.4 ng/mL
    6/17/2011: 61.0 ng/mL
    6/21/2010: 52.0 ng/mL
    So I’m glad to see I’m in the “optimal” range; and I am obviously one of those individuals who requires supplementation in excess of 6000 IU per day to keep my blood levels up in this range and to get the full protective benefits of this super nutrient. Again, thanks for your helpful information. Jana

  • Molly P.

    I really enjoyed reading about the different types of Vitamin D; I had no idea! But it completely makes sense about why Vitamin D has such a large effect on emotions and mental state. Thank you for this information.
    -Molly

  • Glenda

    Wow I had no idea hw important vitamen D is ! My level is at 9.yes i worote that correctlyI just had bloodwork done yesterday and my level was 9.I was told to take Vitamen D3 2000 units a day and calcium 1200 mg a day. We shalll see how it goes wish me luck

  • Helen T.

    Sunlight – Production of vitamin D is increased when your skin is exposed to sunlight. Individuals who spend little to no time in the sun, or wear long robes and/or head coverings are decreasing their skin’s sun exposure, hence decreasing the body’s production of vitamin D. This is also true for individuals who work or spend a lot of time indoors, missing out on vital sunlight exposure.

    Source: vitamin D and sun

  • My level jumped from 19ng/mL to 24 ng/mL in a month once i began taking Liquid Vitamin D-3 5000iu by trace minerals. I hope to see numbers like Jana. fingers crossed.

  • massoud

    thanks for your comprehensive detail about vit.d deficiency since I am worried about my health after seeing my lab test result which catagorised me in sever deficiecy level.I would be thankful if you could provide detail of shine box.

  • I just started on a 12-week regiment of 50,000 once per week, prescribed by my doctor. I found that I immediately have a lift in my mood and am a bit of a chatterbox every Monday when I take it. Absolutely no side effects whatsoever, which is great considering the high dose.

  • Peter W.

    I am 92 kg (200 lb) and 182 cm 6ft, I took 50,000 every second day at the beginning to get blood levels up. I now take 50,000 every 5th day for a 10,000 IU/day regime. I also take 4000IU of K2-M$ form and 1000 K2 M7 (the brand is BIO. Thats how theirs comes basically one of their tablets for every 10,000 IU D3. Plus 500 mg of magnesium.

    Why?

    The K2 i the traffic op and directs calcium to bones. Obviousl my effiociency of extravcton of calcium from my diet has improved and I want it on bones not liver and kidneys. The magnesium because it leads to more flexible bones not just dense chalky bones. I don’t need more calcium as I ave a cup at breakfast with ceral as a side, a cuppachino at mid-morning, yogurt in evening and from vegetables, thats enough calcium given the vitamin D3 is working hard to use what I already ingest, just need a little magnesium to go with it.

    (Plus 300 mg of Krill and 2x 500 mg/day of turmeric, Plus three serves of fish a week and lots of mixed vegetables, smallish serves, and some yoghurt. yes meat too but small pieces of beef and a couple of meals with meat ball sauce with rich tomato sauce i,e, lots of tomato, Greenish rather than yello banana every day and a alternating between a glass every lunch time of coconut, or pomegranite or blue berry juice)

    I go for a one hour walk twice a week carrying 12 kg, the weight strengthens my legs and one kg weight on each wrist. Jogging is nuts, the impact destroys your joints eventually. But a good solid amount of weight carrying loads your bones p, helps make calcium go their, strengthens all your muscles – you wll be amazed how sore you are next day in places you wouldn’t think, all those little muscles managing to keep you upright as you walk with the extra weight, and every time I see a hill or some stairs I go hard at it

    I feel great for 60 and if I feel like some junk food, or a chunk of chocolate occasionally, I will eat it. “Everything in moderation including moderation,”

  • confused_patient

    Hi…I was having extreme ache in my bones all throughout my body especially in my thigh areas. I went to the doctor and as per his advice took the Vitamin-D Test. The result came out to be only 8.7!! Now I have been prescribed to take Vitamin-D supplements (20,000 IU per intake- 2 capsules twice per week) along with Calcium capsules. Is the dosage okay or too high? Please advice.

  • Low vitamin D can also be a sub-symptom of parathyroid disease which correlates with high calcium. Speaking from experience.

  • My Gyno just had a full blood workup on me and found my Vitamin D was really low (15.7 ng/ml) She had me taking 10,000mg twice a day of D3. My family doctor saw the results and had a fit and told me to stop the D3 and take this mega dose of D2 50,000 units once a week for the next 3 months. Now I am worried about the difference between D2 and D3. I was feeling very depressed but since I began supplementing with the D3 I felt much better. The D2 seems to be keeping the depression away also.

  • Sangeeta N.

    I absolutely had no idea that Depression is associated with Vitamin D deficiency!!! Very informative.

  • ronni c.

    My daughters d level tested 6 she has all of the above symptoms weight gain point in pain tired all the time must get her in sun and on meds

  • Julie c.

    Hi I live in England and my vitamin D level is 4 I kid you not! My doctor says I have to take five tablets in one go and no more then for a month and then have my blood tested again, I feel surely five tabs to last me a whole month does not sound enough? Any suggestions?

  • David L.

    Julie , read up on this subject as much as you can. UK doctors knowledge on this is woeful. Tablets are not the best form to take D3 , they should be soluble. You should be on at least 5000 IU per day with possibly more at the weekend , maybe in sachet form if your level is indeed 4 nmol/l. Read as much as you can and go back to the doctors. Get out in the sun EVERYTIME it is out. Solar noon is around 12.57 in London so maybe 10 mins either side of this when the UVI is at its highest. Take it steady though with particular attention to your type of skin. I am 20 nmol/l and I can’t start to think what you must be like at 4 nmol/l. I have all the symptoms I have read about – fatigue, weakness, cramps, joint pain, mood changes and depression.

  • Janneke

    In the past I suffered from menstruationpains. When I was out in the sun I had less pain. Then I thought it was because of the warmth. Later, when I took vitamin D I realised it was because of the vitamin D. Nowadays I have hardly any pain during the menstruation. And also no white fingers during the winter.

  • Over the past for 18months I have suffered from fatigue even after a full nights sleep, pain in joints(knees), dental cavities (3 root canals) more than ever, muscles aches, heavy menstrual cycles (fibroid and endometriosis) but had ablation to correct several years ago no problems with cycles until 18 months ago, weight gain, chronic pain and headaches, digestive issues not matter what I ate, so tired I could not complete house work without taking a break and most of all increase in blood pressure. I wrote all of my symptoms down and took it to my OBGYN and she ran a lot of test including vitamin d- my level was 10. She only put me on 1000 IU, after visiting my cardiologist( made an appointment because thought it could cardiovasgular) she placed me on 50,000 IU D3 1wk for 12 weeks and more lab work. I am only one week in and feel a difference in energy level and no more knee pain or headaches for the past 7 days. I think vitamin d test should be added to routine annual blood work the test is very inexpensive, compared to expenses of seeing all the other specialist to figure out the problem.

  • I have had digestive problems for the past three years had tests for ibs , chrones , heart , endoscopy , colonoscopy , gaulbladder , and all come back with little things wrong , including a hiatus hernia , but nothing that they could put a finger on that caused me to have bloating abdominal pain loose stools feeling unwell fatigued weight gain , then I had a change in doctor as I could not get into see my regular doctor and this one ( young newly qualified) had blood tests done , he text me the results and has put me on 3,000 iu vit D I have been on tablets for G E R D , osophajitus , and since taking the higher dose of vit D I am now two weeks into it and find that I am feeling better not as tired , not deeding the gaviscon and tablets anymore I have improved my diet and now feel much better than I did I have no bone pain , small aches but I think that is because I have not move these muscles for 3 yrs , I am going swimming twice a week how can this be so un known , everyone should be checked as routine , we all have jobs and don’t get out into the open for the sun ,I makes sense that we need extra ,it makes matters worse when we told to put sun screen on when we go out into the sun , never again will I put sun screen on

  • feeling tired, joint pain and difficulty rounding for one hour with physician. Ortho doctor said bone spurs behind both knees and given cortisone shot. Continued to feel fatigued and shoulders, hips and thigh/knee area painful especially when going to sleep. Doctor did labs and started me on 50,000 units of Vitamin D twice a month and returned for 90 labs and labs improved from 16 to 28 but still fatigued and joint pain but no leg cramps like initially. He seemed pleased with my labs but I still feel tired and achy. Any suggestions?

  • My therapist suggested I get my Vitamin D checked. My doctor called me at 7:30 in the morning after the blood work and told me it was a 9! OMG! He got me on a regiment and I was feeling much better then I kinda slipped and now I’m depressed again. November doesn’t help things, either. Back to Vitamin D daily I go!

  • Hi my first test was 39 I have hyperthyroidism, I’ve had hemithyroidectomy, but on no meds now gastritis,and hiatus hernia and I have gilberts disease, I was in pain daily (bones,headaches,reflux exhausted I too saw a young doc she put me on vit d3 800iu per day wow I feel so much better I’m 89 nnmol now, but I’m reading that magnesium and vit k2 are magnificent with vit d3 and you can get soy free too, I haven’t tried yet but I’m very keen, I do take Epsom salt baths to get magnesium into my body, and I would like to up my vit d3 now it’s winter but doc says no.

  • richard n.

    Attitude to vit d deficiencies is appalling in UK. Consulted GP on bone pain and tooth sensitivity, cold and hot, told to see dentist. He said root canal treatment, fortunately, i said no. Later had vit d blood test, came back 29 nm/ml, put me on 800 iu daily, a joke. ( effectively the dentist would have assaulted me for gain! ) I put my self on 40,000 iu, ( incredibly GP approved! )18 months, now 10,000 iu plus regular vit d lamp, Sperti, brilliant. Now level about 175nm/ml, i’m told coast guards normally 250 nm/ml. Colitis controlled now, vit d brilliant natural anti inflammatory for gut. Now cured using Tryptophan and DHEA, yes cured, no meds for 30 months. They ( drugs ) try to kill us. You tube video Dr Robert Heaney, Calgory Sept 2012 vitamin D, convinced me, watch it, daunting! Biggest problem with any natural supplements is pharmaceuticals can’t patent them, so they, i’m convinced, try to block them. Classic example is Tryptophan in USA, shocking, yet it cured my colitis, and yes tumor necrosis factor is controlled by it, that’s beginning of cancer! Same vit D, nobody wants to spend on research, just go for it, take k2 with it at high doses, careful if you are mature, you may have compromised fatty liver.
    Good luck.

  • For the past 9-10 months, i was feeling myself very confused, aggressive, tired and was loosing ability to carry heavy weights. A few days ago, i hit my ankle somewhere i even dont remember. I didn’t feel any pain at that time. But a few days later pain started and got more with time. I went to my doctor and discussed. He asked me if i had these symptoms i mentioned above and ran a few tests including vitamin D3. Report came and i am on 6.2!! He has started me on 200,000 ui units of Vitamin D, 4 tablets a week. Is this too much ?
    Thanks

  • Thanks for article very helpful. For the past few months I was suffering from being tired, fatigue, problems with digestion, moods changes… I just have my blood test done and my total 25 hydroxy vit d is 26nmol/l was prescribed 3200 units per day to take for 3 months. Looking forward to see what impact it will have on my general health.
    Does low vitamin d have any impact on menstruation cycle?

  • Abhishek

    I was diagnosed with a 25 hydroxy test value of 4.9.
    I am taking vitamin D3 2000 one tab per day for the past 10 days and sitting in the sun daily for half an hour. I am feeling a lot more positive and hopeful but not much difference in energy levels.

  • can vitamin D deficiency symptoms cause shortness of breath, cold feet, headache, ringing in the ears,

  • Ahmad N.

    I am having multiple symptoms of low energy, depression, muscle weakness, and pain that get relieved temporarily when i extend my muscles and them come back again in matter of seconds, my knees hurt and my mood is below the gutters, i feel distracted and cant focus in work or home, the thing is it really feels like fibromalaygia or chronic fatigue syndrom, cause i have done lots of blood tests and nothing was abnormal except a little increase in wbc and lymphocytes, so my doctor ordered a vit D test and it came back 18ng (45 nmol) which means i am difficient in vit D, he prescribed 50,000 iu of vit D3 per week for 8 weeks, i will start tomorrow, and i am praying that the problem lying in vit D, as i feel really tired all the time like i am having the flu or cold or feels like a truck just hit me, so i am hoping that viD supplements will solve y symptoms or even some of it, as any improvement will mean a lot to me.

  • Nelson c.

    YES! vitamin D deficiency symptoms cause shortness of breath. you will not find any difference in breathing even if you run 10 km without rest or simply sit. your respiration will not change.
    lts my personal experience.

  • The comment from Nelson C regarding shortness of breath is very interesting. I’ve had tests done to see if I had problems in my lungs and it showed nothing. I recently had my vitamin D tested – my regular doctor wouldn’t do it so I changed doctors to someone who would test vitamin D. Mine is at 30 which is not as extremely low as others who’ve responded, but it’s not at optimal levels either.

  • Pat E.

    Hi. Have been a depressed hermit for three years, after 2, had big problems with depression & then developed bad joint pain. went to my MD she tested my Vit d , said it was almost non exisistant started taking Vit D 3 2000 mg daily within 6 weeks my mood is greatly improved & my joint pain is gone !!! Amazing having level checked again in 6 months

  • If you have a Vit D deficiencey their is usually a reason for it. Before taking high levels of D ask your doctor to run a simply calcium test. If the calcium is high it can lower the D. If that is the case and you take high levels of fit D you can actually have a stroke.

  • My son who is 17 just had labs done and the doctor said he was severely vitamin D deficient. She prescribed 100,000 units prescription vitamin D for a week and then wants to check his levels again. We are also insisting that he spend at least 30 minutes a day in the sun. I’ve also read that magnesium helps with vitamin D absorption.

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