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Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms
- Depression or anxiety
- Bone softening (low bone density) or fractures
- Fatigue and generalized weakness
- Muscle cramps and weakness
- Joint pain (most noticeable in the back and knees)
- Blood sugar issues
- Low immunity
- Low calcium levels in the blood
- Mood changes and irritability
- Weight gain
What Causes Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms?
These are the most common causes of vitamin D deficiency symptoms:
- 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.) Therefore a lack of exposure to the sun or extended periods of time spent indoors can lead to vitamin D deficiency symptoms.
- 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.
- Age. As you age, your kidneys are less able to convert vitamin D to its active form, calcitriol, which can lead to a deficiency.
- Digestive Issues. Problems in the digestive tract can cause inadequate absorption of vitamin D.
- 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.
- Kidney or liver disease. Kidney and liver diseases can impair vitamin D conversion to its active form.
Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms: Why They Matter
Vitamin D deficiency symptoms in women and men, if left untreated, can lead to serious health problems, including:
- Osteopenia or osteoporosis
- Rickets in children
- Contracting the cold or the flu (weakened immune system)
- Periodontal disease
- Cardiovascular disease (high blood pressure and/or congestive heart failure)
- Major depressive disorder or seasonal affective disorder
- Multiple sclerosis
Vitamin D Deficiency Testing
A 25-hydroxy vitamin D text (or 25(OH)D text) is usually measured in nanograms per milliliter, or ng/mL. But even after a test, things can get murky. Why? Because there’s debate among experts as to what blood level results are “deficient” and what levels are “insufficient.”
Most would agree that a vitamin D level lower than 10 ng/mL signals a deficiency.
- Some—like the Institute of Medicine—put the threshold at 12.5 ng/mL.
- Others—like the Endocrine Society—have recommended that vitamin D levels be at least 30 ng/mL, and that optimally, levels should sit in the range of 40 to 60 ng/mL.
Integrative doctors, as we discuss later in this post, may recommend higher levels—between 50 ng/mL and 70 ng/mL.
What’s the Right Vitamin D Level?
Your health, age, and lifestyle may affect what your ideal level should be; your physician will point you in the right direction. But ultimately, the most commonly accepted range for “adequate” vitamin D levels is 30 to 39 ng/mL, while the most commonly recommended “optimal” range is 40 to 49 ng/ML. (See chart below.)
Low Vitamin D Treatment
Signs of low vitamin D can be reversed using inexpensive natural remedies:
- 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 and, of course, it’s very cost effective!
- 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.
- 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 1,000 IU and 5,000 IU daily. Note: Children should NOT take extra vitamin D supplements without consulting a family doctor or pediatrician.
- Take the 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test again. After a couple of months of supplementation, run the 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test (by either your doctor or yourself directly) again, and adjust your D3 intake accordingly.
Vitamin D’s Link to Depression, Anxiety: A Closer Look
It’s No. 1 on the list above that we’ll examine more closely here. After all, the link between depression and vitamin 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’s obtained through sunlight. Scientists have found that people with low vitamin D symptoms are 11 times more prone to be depressed than those who had normal levels.
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.
There may be more to your depression, of course, 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). But it makes sense to explore whether or not vitamin D is contributing to depression.
A study conducted by Boston University researchers revealed that 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.”
This article was originally published in 2013 and is regularly updated.
 JAMA, Nov. 14, 2012; 308(18).
 PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e58725.
 American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, December 2006; 14(12): 1032-1040.
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 Br J Psychiatry. 2013 Feb;202:100-7.