People obtain vitamin D mostly through exposure to sunlight. You can also acquire this fat-soluble vitamin by consuming foods containing vitamin D or taking dietary supplements. Vitamin D is essential for healthy and strong bones, healthy immune system and functioning of your brain, muscles, heart and lungs. A deficiency of vitamin D in women can affect their health and well-being.
Vitamin D Needs
Vitamin D from sunlight, food and supplements must undergo changes in the body to be used. The liver first converts vitamin D to calcidiol, which is then changed to calcitriol by the kidneys. Calcitriol is the active form of vitamin D that is used by the body. The recommended dietary allowance of vitamin D for women is 600 international units, or IU, per day. Pregnant women also need 600 IU per day. Fish, fish liver oils, mushrooms and foods fortified with vitamin D are good sources of the vitamin. Most people meet their needs for vitamin D through sunshine.
Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency
Your doctor may recommend a vitamin D supplement if your vitamin D levels are low to prevent or diminish the negative effects of vitamin D deficiency. He might order a blood test to determine vitamin D levels. In addition to inadequate intake and limited sun exposure, vitamin D deficiency can be due to impaired absorption from the digestive tract, increased requirements, limited conversion of vitamin D to active form calcitriol or an increased excretion.
Adequate levels of vitamin D are required to maintain bone health. A deficiency of vitamin D increases a woman's risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis increases bone fragility and risk of bone fractures characterized by low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue. While low calcium is usually associated with osteoporosis, inadequate vitamin D levels limit calcium absorption, which affects bone health. Signs of a severe deficiency of vitamin D include recurrent bone fractures and frequent bone pain.
Vitamin D plays a role in maintaining a healthy immune system by acting as a receptor on the immune cells in your body. A deficiency in vitamin D is linked to increased autoimmunity and increased susceptibility to infection. A sign that you may not be getting enough vitamin D is frequent colds or infections. If you have a cold or infection that never goes away, ask your physician about your vitamin D level.
Other Signs and Symptoms
Fatigue is a common sign of vitamin D deficiency. You may feel like you have no energy. Muscle pain and aches, muscle cramps and weakness are other commonly reported symptoms associated with low vitamin D levels in the body. Not everyone who has vitamin D deficiency has symptoms.