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Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms

Rickets and bone deformities in children are the most common vitamin D deficiency symptoms in poor countries. But in wealthy countries, the symptoms are subtle and may be overlooked until a person’s health is significantly compromised.

During the winter in northern regions, 5,000 IUs daily may be required to support optimal calcium absorption.

Vitamin D deficiency symptoms are most common among people who are elderly, institutionalized or hospitalized. In the United States, 60% of nursing home residents and 57% of hospitalized patients have been found to be vitamin D deficient.

But vitamin D deficiency is not restricted to the elderly or to the hospitalized. Studies have also found a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency symptoms among young adults.

One study determined that nearly two thirds of healthy, young adults in Boston had symptoms of vitamin D deficiency at the end of winter.

Regular vitamin D blood tests are now included in medical check-ups to assist patients to actively monitor and maintain adequate vitamin D levels.

And osteoporosis treatment guidelines now emphasize the importance of an adequate vitamin D dosage in order to absorb the calcium which is essential for building strong bones.

The most extreme Vitamin D deficiency symptoms are burning of the mouth and throat, nervousness, sweating of the scalp, diarrhea, insomnia, mineral weakness of the bones and nearsightedness.

While these extreme symptoms are unusual in developed countries, they still exist in certain parts of the population and may be a warning sign of rickets or osteomalacia.

Rickets And Osteomalacia

Rickets is a childhood disease characterized by impeded growth and deformed bones including bowing of the legs. In the Western world, around the year 1900, finding children younger than 2 years who were not affected by rickets would have been difficult in urban areas.

But rickets was eradicated almost completely once it was discovered that it was one of the most common vitamin D deficiency symptoms. In the 1930s, the fortification of milk with 400 IU of vitamin D per quart of milk led to the most dramatic decline in the number of rickets cases in the United States.

The daily consumption of a tablespoon of cod liver oil also became a common part of the daily routine for children... even if the adults didn’t swallow their own medicine.

At present, premature babies are the one group that still has a relatively high risk of developing rickets. Infants who are breastfed solely as a source of nutrition for more than six months are also at increased risk.

The milder, adult form of rickets is usually referred to as osteomalacia. Osteomalacia is also caused by vitamin D deficiency or by an underlying condition which prevents proper absorption or conversion of vitamin D.

In adults it is usually revealed through diffuse body pains, muscle weakness and fragile bones or stress fractures rather than the deformed bones that we associate with rickets. These symptoms can be subtle and may go undetected in the initial stages of the disease.

Osteomalacia is also rare in wealthy countries, although Muslim women wearing a chador have a higher risk of the deficiency due to underexposure to sunlight. If these women breastfeed their babies without the benefit of supplements, the children may also be at higher risk of developing Vitamin D deficiency symptoms.


Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by reduced bone mineral density and increased risk of bone fractures.

Osteoporosis is a major public health threat for an estimated 44 million Americans... or 55 percent of the people 50 years of age and older. In the United States, 10 million people are estimated to have osteoporosis and another 34 million have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for osteoporosis.

Eighty percent of those affected by osteoporosis are women and twenty per cent are men. People living in northern regions who suffer from intestinal disorders such as Crohn's disease may not be able to absorb vitamin D supplements and so require a sunlamp to maintain blood levels during the winter months.

Vitamin D insufficiency contributes to osteoporosis by decreasing the absorption of calcium through the intestines.

As bone density erodes over many years, the vitamin D deficiency symptoms may go undetected until there is a bone fracture (often of the hip or wrist) and the patient undergoes a bone density scan.

Chronic Diseases

Vitamin D malnutrition may also be linked to an increased susceptibility to several chronic diseases. Research suggests these include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Tuberculosis
  • Cancer (breast, colon, prostate and pancreatic cancer)
  • Periodontal disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Chronic pain
  • Seasonal affective disorder
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Cognitive impairment (memory loss)
  • Autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes

There is also an association between low vitamin D levels and Parkinson's disease but it is not clear whether Parkinson's causes low vitamin D levels or whether low vitamin D levels play a role in the development of Parkinson's disease.

The Vitamin D Council reports that the body uses vitamin D as fast as it receives it at blood levels below 125 nmol/L (50 ng/ml) and does not have sufficient to protect us from cancer. The Council advices us to maintain our blood levels at 125–200 nmol/L (50–80 ng/ml) year-round for optimal health.

For information on a supplement program that addresses vitamin D deficiency symptoms... see our Osteoporosis Treatment Guidelines.