Go back to the blog 25.11.2018

Vitamin D deficiency: the unknown global health problem

Vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common diseases worldwide. An estimated one billion people suffer from a significant vitamin D deficiency, almost half of the world's population has an easily low vitamin D level. You can find out more about this rather unknown health problem and its most important warning signs and how you can prevent it here.

Why is vitamin D important?
Vitamin D helps our body absorb calcium, which is vital for bone and muscle health. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to bone diseases such as rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Recent studies also suggest that vitamin D can reduce the risk of developing common diseases such as cancer and type II diabetes.

How does my body get vitamin D?
Our main source of vitamin D is the sun. When our skin is exposed to sunlight, our body produces vitamin D. This is why it is often referred to as the sunshine vitamin.

Who is most susceptible to vitamin D deficiency?
There are certain groups that are exposed to an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency. These include

  • People who only get little sunlight because they are either in higher altitudes
  • latitudes or heavily polluted areas, or simply too little time to live.
  • out in the open.
  • People with darker skin, as they need more sunlight to
  • to take in enough vitamin D.
  • Pregnant and breast-feeding women, as their baby's nutrient requirements increase the vitamin D level in her body.
  • Breastfed babies also have a higher risk - but this does not apply to babies with
  • other baby food, as it is usually enriched with vitamin D.
  • People with health problems, such as intestinal problems or overweight, as this can impair vitamin D absorption.

Surprisingly, vitamin D deficiency is also widespread in parts of the world with a lot of sunshine - for example in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. This may be due to the very hot climate, which prevents people from spending much time outdoors. Cultural practices and covering the skin could also contribute to a shortage in these areas.

What are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency?
Many affected people know nothing about their deficiency, because the symptoms are usually inconspicuous and unspecific. The most common symptoms are:

  • exhaustion and fatigue
  • depression or mood swings
  • bone and/or muscle pain
  • Brittle bones or fractures
  • Weakened immune system (e.g. frequent colds)
  • Reduced athletic performance or endurance

How can I prevent a vitamin D deficiency?
Increased exposure to sunlight is probably the best and easiest way to increase your vitamin D levels. Ideally, you should spend 15 to 20 minutes a day in natural sunlight. Now you always have a good excuse to book a beach holiday. If it's not always enough, you can also take in more vitamin D through certain foods. Especially rich in vitamin D are egg yolks, high-fat fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, beef liver, mushrooms and fortified foods (e.g. some cereals and dairy products).

What can I do if I suspect a vitamin D deficiency?
If you think you are suffering from a vitamin D deficiency or an increased risk of it, you should ask your doctor for a blood test. Many peoplefrom time to time have too low a vitamin D level (insufficiency), but no chronic deficiency. A vitamin D deficiency is only considered to occur when the amount of vitamin D is less than 25 nmol/l. If the test shows a significant deficiency, vitamin preparations can help. But beware: taking too much vitamin D may lead to an accumulation of calcium in the body and other health problems. Also check whether your health insurance will cover the cost of vitamin D supplements. International health insurance companies only cover the costs of chronic vitamin D deficiency, not occasional insufficiency, which is very common.

This post first appeared on the Now Health Blog on 21 September 2018. © Now Health International - one of our valued long-term partners in the field of international health insurance plans.