Symptoms of low vitamin D levels range from minor to severe. Minor symptoms include a lowered immune system, weight loss, sore muscles, mood disorders and fatigue. Severe symptoms of low vitamin D levels include serious diseases such as osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke and rickets. Getting enough of this nutrient is critical for physical and mental health.
Vitamin D is often called the sunshine vitamin, but it does not come directly from the sun; rather the sunlight activates molecules in the skin that the body turns into vitamin D. Limited exposure to sunlight is one of the primary causes of low vitamin D levels; it is also the easiest to amend by simply spending a little more time outdoors. Modern life, particularly in cold climates, limits outdoor activity; it does not need to be sunny to get a dose of the nutrient, however, as even a cloudy day has plenty of UV rays to activate the process in the body.
Recognizing the symptoms of low vitamin D is important in diagnosing a deficiency. Symptoms range from mild to severe and can cause long-term problems if not treated. While mild symptoms, such as fatigue and mood swings, have minimal impact on overall health, prolonged periods of low levels can have a long-term affect on health. This type of nutrient deficiency affects people differently depending on age, physical health, and gender.
Mild deficiency symptoms include weight loss, fatigue, lowered immunity, mild muscle aches and cramps, and mood disorders. Women are more likely to be affected by mood disorders triggered by low vitamin D during PMS and menopause. Taking a supplement, including vitamin D rich foods in the diet, or spending more time outdoors can improve symptoms.
Severe vitamin D deficiency results in increased severity of mild symptoms and can lead to serious medical conditions such as rickets, diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, and stroke. In women, low levels increase the chance of developing some cancers, including ovarian cancer and breast cancer. Vitamin D is also critical for normal fetal development.
The liver and the kidneys process the nutrient. As the body ages, the kidneys lose some of their ability to process the molecules into needed vitamin D, leading to low levels. Weight is another factor: obesity leads to low vitamin D levels because, as a fat-soluble vitamin, it is stored in the fat layer. People with excess fat store the nutrient, making it less accessible to the body.
Eating a proper diet is a good way to get vitamin D. Such foods as fish oil, eggs, liver, dairy, and some types of meat, provide the body with the necessary nutrients to synthesize the nutrient. In winter, when outdoor activity is often limited, symptoms of fatigue and mild depression are common without additional vitamin D from food or a supplement.