Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that contributes to bone health and overall wellness. Vitamin D3 is the form of this essential nutrient that's most closely tied to increased levels of vitamin D in the blood, says the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). The effects of vitamin D deficiency can impact your health negatively and seriously. In children, it's linked to rickets, while adults may suffer from osteomalacia.
More About Vitamin D
The U.S. Office of Dietary Supplements indicates that vitamin D isn't naturally found in many foods; vitamin D3 is found in beef liver, cheese and egg yolks, while vitamin D2 is found in some types of mushrooms. Numerous foods, such as milk, orange juice and cereal, are fortified with vitamin D2, vitamin D3 or both. Vitamin D is also available in the form of dietary supplements. Vitamin D is also synthesized by your own body when the sun's ultraviolet rays hit your skin. Children between the ages of 0 to 18 years need 400 to 600 IUs of this vitamin. Healthy adults need around 600 IUs, while those 70 and older need 800 IUs.
Vitamin D's primary job is to help the body absorb the minerals calcium and phosphorus from the intestinal tract, reports the Mayo Clinic. Children who suffer a vitamin D deficiency lack adequate levels of these minerals in their bones. Children with rickets experience delays in growth, weak muscles and pain in the spine, pelvis and legs. Rickets presents itself in the form of skeletal abnormalities. Children with rickets may have bowed legs, breastbones that jut forward, thick ankles and wrists and abnormally curved spines. When rickets is left untreated, it can cause additional complications, such as bones that fracture easily, dental abnormalities, difficulty breathing, seizures and pneumonia.
When rickets occurs in adults, it's called osteomalacia. According to the Mayo Clinic, in its earlier stages, you may be asymptomatic. As the disease progresses, adults notice aching in the bones, primarily in the hips, legs and lower back. This form of vitamin D deficiency may also cause muscle weakness and overall decreased muscle mass. Complications associated with osteomalacia include increased risk of bone fracture, especially to the spine, legs and ribs. Adults most likely to suffer from osteomalacia are those who get insufficient amounts of vitamin D from the food they eat and who also rarely or never go out in the sun.
According to the UMMC, researchers are exploring the link between low levels of vitamin D and other conditions, such as high blood pressure, depression, obesity and certain types of cancer. If you're concerned that you're not getting enough vitamin D, consult with your treating physician rather than self-treating with dietary supplements. Vitamin D toxicity can cause hypercalcemia, a condition in which calcium builds up in your blood, resulting in symptoms such as nausea, constipation, kidney stones, weakness and an abnormal heart rhythm.