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The Importance of Vitamin D: Should a Deficiency be a Concern?

written by: •edited by: Carly Stockwell•updated: 11/15/2013

Vitamin D deficiencies are so common that many doctors routinely test for it when performing exams. But how big of a concern is it?

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    The Connection Between Vitamin D and Osteoperosis Exploring the uses and functions of vitamin D is much like looking at a wheel with multiple spokes. Through years of research, scientists and physicians have discovered that low levels of vitamin D is correlated with many diseases and conditions. It is true that vitamin D deficiency can cause a softening in the bones, but can it cause osteoporosis? Is a deficiency in vitamin D a cause for alarm? These are the questions to investigate.

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    The Importance of Vitamin D

    Vitamin D is found in some of the foods we eat. The vitamin can be found naturally in fatty fish such as tuna, sardines, mackerel, and herring. We can obtain vitamin D through fortified dairy products, juices and cereals, but most of our vitamin D comes from exposure to the sun.

    The major function of vitamin D in our bodies is regulating the levels of minerals like phosphorus and calcium. Phosphorus is used for growth and repair of cells and tissues. Eighty-five percent of the body's phosphorus is located in the bones and teeth. Calcium is vital to bone structure and strength; therefore, together, phosphorus and calcium work to provide bone structure and strength. Due to its role in managing phosphorus and calcium, vitamin D is also associated with and used to treat weak bones and osteoporosis.

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    Vitamin D Deficiencies

    A deficiency in vitamin D is a common occurrence. People living in the northern United States and Canada are prone to be deficient in the vitamin since they have less sun exposure. Older people have fewer "receptors" on their skin, so they don't get as much benefit being in the sun. And in our industrial, blue-collar age, there are fewer people working and playing outside.

    Vitamin D deficiency is such a common occurrence that many physicians routinely test for this critical vitamin when performing a physical exam and annual laboratory testing. For example, one study examined 101 patients from the ages of 20 to 88 and 81 percent had low levels of the vitamin. The majority of research indicates that vitamin D deficiency does not cause osteoporosis. The lack of the vitamin may be a contributing factor, but there are many risk factors and potential causes of osteoporosis. Some of these causes such as family history, gender and ethnicity cannot be helped. But others, such as smoking, lack of exercise or excessive alcohol, can be controlled.

    However, in this same study by Kota, Jammula, Kota, Meher, and Modi printed in the Indian Journal of Orthopedics in July-August of 2013, the results showed that unless the vitamin D deficiency is severe, people with low to moderate deficiencies were just as apt to have osteoporosis as not.

    If vitamin D deficiency isn't a direct cause of low bone mineral density, is it a big deal? The answer is yes, a vitamin D deficiency is a cause of concern even though studies show it is not a cause of osteoporosis. Left untreated, a deficiency in vitamin D can cause a host of issues. Top of the list are rickets and softening of the bones, a condition known as osteomalacia. While some with low vitamin D levels have no symptoms, some experience joint or muscle pain, headaches, diarrhea or constipation, poor concentration, or high blood pressure.

    Vitamin D is important to our bodies. Fortunately, vitamin D deficiency is easily treated with over-the-counter supplements. We need to be diligent in getting our level tested in order to maintain good health.

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