How serious is vitamin D deficiency? Causes and remedies
Vitamin D (calciferol) is a fat-soluble substance and essential for proper bone and teeth formation. It also helps metabolize calcium and regulate the blood’s phosphorus levels. It is estimated that around 60% of adults in Spain are deficient in vitamin D, a key element for good health.
This statistic is counter intuitive as Spain is known for its endless hours of sunshine, the main source from which this vitamin is obtained.
Where does vitamin D come from?
There are only three ways through which people can get vitamin D:
- The sun. The sun’s (UV) rays provide a large amount of vitamin D and, according to medical calculations, it only takes about 15 minutes a day to cover this need. It is recommended that people use sun protection when outside beyond those 15 minutes.
- Food. Eating certain foods can also help us to increase vitamin D levels. Recommended foods include eggs, mushrooms, beef liver, meat, cheese, sardines and smoked or salted fish such as salmon.
- Supplements. Some at risk groups such as children and pregnant women, may be prescribed vitamin D supplements in case sun exposure and diet are insufficient.
What causes vitamin D deficiency?
90& of vitamin D is created from solar radiation and 10% from diet. Contrary to what one might think, vitamin D deficiency is a very common disease in countries that enjoy a high number of hours of sunshine.
So much so that vitamin D deficiency is the most frequent nutritional deficiency in Spain. This deficiency is linked to various health issues such as pregnancy complications, type 1 diabetes, obesity and autoimmune diseases.
Some people suffer this vitamin deficiency because they cannot absorb the vitamin from food or because their liver or kidneys cannot convert it into its active ingredient. Another reason would be the taking of drugs that interfere with the absorption of vitamin D.
What health problems can vitamin D deficiency cause?
- May cause hypocalcemia (low levels of calcium in the blood).
- Osteomalacia (weakening of bones).
Who is most at risk?
- Babies sometimes need supplemental vitamins. It is very common for breast milk not to provide sufficient levels of vitamin D. Many doctors may also urge parents to take their babies outside to receive sunlight.
- The elderly possess skin which is generally less efficient as producing vitamin D from the sun.
- Individuals with dark skin, as they have less ability to produce this vitamin from sunlight.
- Patients with Crohn’s disease or celiac disease, as they do not absorb fat correctly (which is necessary for vitamin D to be metabolized).
- The obese, as excess fat makes it difficult for vitamin D to enter the blood stream.
- Individuals with renal or hepatic problems.
- Patients who have undergone gastric bypass surgery.
- Those who suffer from osteoporosis.
- People with hyperparathyroidism.
- Patients with some type of cancer such as lymphomas.
- Those who take medications that affect the absorption of vitamin D. Some are: cholestyramine (against cholesterol), glucocorticoids, antifungals or those prescribed against AIDS.