The body uses vitamin D3 as part of a bone-making and maintenance team. Vitamin D3 is not actually a vitamin at all but is a hormone mainly used to signal the release and absorption of calcium and phosphorus from various body tissues. The body is able to synthesize vitamin D3 if exposed to ultraviolet sun light. Vitamin D3 is also readily available from fortified foods, including milk, butter, cereals, margarine and chocolate mixes. It is found naturally in foods like beef, veal, egg yolks, liver and fatty fish (e.g., herring, salmon and sardines).
Rickets is a disease afflicting children caused by vitamin D3 deficiency. Without the proper amounts of vitamin D3 to allow for proper signaling, bone growth is retarded. The bones become weak because they do not calcify normally, and many times bone abnormalities form. Symptoms of rickets include bowed legs, beaded ribs, pelvic deformities, abnormal spinal curvature, projections of the breast bone, frequent bone fractures, poor teeth enamel, abnormal tooth structure, increased cavities, bone pain, height or limb growth retardation and decreased muscle tone and strength.
The adult form of rickets is osteomalacia. The most afflicted population is women who are not often exposed to ultraviolet rays, have little calcium intake and go through multiple frequent child births with lactation. Osteomalacia has similar symptoms to rickets, including bowed legs, stooped or bent-over posture, increased bone fractures, achy bones and poor muscle strength and tone.
Osteoporosis could be caused in part by a lack of vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is essential for optimal bone health, and when adequate amounts are provided, either through the diet or by ultraviolet light exposure, bone loss and fracture risk is reduced. Symptoms of osteoporosis are generally not outwardly noticeable. People are often unaware of the disease until they fracture a fragile bone in an otherwise minor trauma. The hip, wrist and vertebrae are the most likely to lose bone mass and fracture. Some people may begin to lose height and bow their back as osteoporosis weakens their spinal vertebrae, creating a stooped posture.
- Understanding Nutrition; Ellie Whitne and Sharon Rady Rolfes; 2005
- Mayo Clinic