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More Health Risks Associated with Vitamin D Deficiency

Updated on November 2, 2009

You may have been told to expose yourself to sunlight to get vitamin D. Well, vitamin D does not literally come from the sun’s rays, but its production in your body is triggered when you are exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the sun.

But what really is vitamin D?

A type of vitamin that dissolves in fat, vitamin D can be obtained from quite a limited number of foods, as well as certain dietary supplements. And as mentioned above, it can also be internally produced by your body upon your skin’s exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

However, vitamin D produced as a result of sunlight exposure as well as from dietary sources, is biologically inert and therefore needs to go through a couple of hydroxylation processes (introduction of hydroxyl into a compound) in the body to be activated. The first hydroxylation process happens in the liver converting vitamin D to 25-hydroxyvitamin D, otherwise known as calcidiol. The second hydroxylation occurs mainly in the kidney and gives rise to the physiologically active 1, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D, better known as calcitriol.

Essential Functions of vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a vital role in facilitating calcium absorption in the intestines as well as in sustaining sufficient levels of calcium and phosphate in the serum which promotes normal mineralization of bones. Insufficient amount of vitamin D can lead to the weakening, thinning, or misshaping of bones. On the other hand, adequate levels of vitamin D can prevent rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. And along with calcium, vitamin D also helps lower the risk of osteoporosis in adults.

Other functions played by vitamin D in human health include regulation of some neuromuscular and immune functions. As an immunoregulator, it acts to reduce the extent of the inflammatory process. A number of genes encoding proteins that control cell proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis (cell death) are partly regulated also by vitamin D.

Recent findings regarding vitamin D deficiency

A few recent studies have found possible links between low vitamin D levels and certain health risks which include the following:

1) Increased Risk of Caesarian Delivery

According to a study recently published online in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, low vitamin D levels may increase a pregnant woman’s chances of delivering by Caesarian section.

The study, conducted by a team of researchers from Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center, found that 28 percent of women whose serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D was less than 37.5 nmol/L had undergone a Caesarian delivery, compared with 14 percent of women with more than 37.5 nmol/L serum levels of this vitamin D.

With this study, making sure you have sufficient levels of vitamin D during pregnancy might just help lower your risk for a Caesarian delivery.

2) Higher risk of brain function impairment

A study on 1,766 adults 65 years old and above, conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge found  a significant association between lower levels of vitamin D and cognitive impairment.

Even after accounting for factors that affect the association, including underlying conditions, the researchers found that elderly subjects having the lowest vitamin D levels were over two times as likely to develop impairment in their cognitive abilities as those with the highest levels of this vitamin.

However, in their conclusion, they recommend that more research is necessary “to investigate whether vitamin D supplementation is a cost effective way of reducing the incidence of cognitive impairment with few adverse events.”

3) Higher Incidence of colds and flu

Researchers from the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine, reviewed data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and found a possible link between low vitamin D levels and a higher incidence of colds and flu.

The study, published in the Feb.23 issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, found that in the prevalently white (75 percent) of the study population whose average age was 38, those with low vitamin D levels (less than 10 nanograms per milliliter of blood) had a nearly 40 percent higher chances of having had a respiratory infection compared with those with at least 30 ng or higher of vitamin D. This finding showed consistency across all races and ages included in the study.

However, Dr. Adit Ginde, the lead researcher said that studies designed to find out whether supplementing with vitamin D would really reduce the risk of respiratory infection they found, are still in the works.

4) Increased risk of obesity

The findings of a study conducted by researchers at the Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles, suggest a link between obesity and low vitamin D levels.

However, the researchers recommend more research into their findings further, and to closely examine associations among vitamin D concentrations, bone growth, and obesity.

As weight control and obesity problems continue to increase, it is good to find one more probable cause of this prevalent medical condition, to better equip us in preventing and fighting it.

Final Words

Although more research is still needed to corroborate the findings of these studies, it is good to know that vitamin D may help lower these health risks. Meanwhile, as studies are being planned or conducted to look further into these noted associations involving vitamin D, it would always be beneficial to maintain a well-balanced diet and to ensure that we have sufficient amount of all the essential vitamins, including vitamin D.


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    • naturman profile image

      Michael Roberts 6 years ago from UK

      A well informed hub, thanks.

    • bettybarnesb profile image

      bettybarnesb 7 years ago from Bartlett, TN

      My doctor put me on a supplement several years ago. They have helped. Great article! I too am a Christian, love the Lord with all my heart.

      Be Blessed...

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      The mothers in the old days knew how important it was for people to get out in the sun. Aside from all the health facts that you mention, being out in the sun just makes you feel good. I wrote a hub about Vitamin D and did not mention some of the things that you did, so I will link to this one, if that's okay with you.

    • Melody Lagrimas profile image

      Melody Lagrimas 8 years ago from Philippines

      Than you Peggy and Angeline for dropping by and for your comments.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Another good reason to work in a daily walk outside and take our multivitamin. Good hub, Melody.

    • anglnwu profile image

      anglnwu 8 years ago

      Very well-researched and interesting hub.I've learned a few things and I'm all the smarter for it--yeah!