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5 Sneaky Signs You Have Low Vitamin D


Specializes in Clinical Leadership, Staff Development, Education. Has 27 years experience.

What to do when feeling tired with general aches and pains?

Do you work night shift and spend only a limited time in the sun? If so, you may not be getting enough of the “sunshine vitamin”, vitamin D. Read on to learn more about Vit D deficiency and why it is often overlooked.

5 Sneaky Signs You Have Low Vitamin D

Spending a little time outdoors may be just what your body needs. When our skin is exposed sunlight, our bodies get busy making vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin. This hormone plays an important part in bone health. How many times growing up did you hear your mom say “drink all your milk for healthy teeth and bones”? Research shows long term low vitamin D levels may also play a role in certain chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, inflammation and autoimmune diseases. Unfortunately, the symptoms of low vitamin D can be vague and easily attributed to other causes.

You May Be at Risk If….

According to the journal, Nutritional Research, approximately 42% of adults in the U.S. are vitamin D deficient. The following factors place people at a higher risk for symptoms:

  • Having darker skin, such as Latinos, African Americans
  • Spending a lot of time indoors (Elderly, working night shift, housebound etc.)
  • Taking medications that interact with Vit D absorption (i.e. heartburn, acid reflux, constipation, GERD).
  • Other chronic conditions that cause malabsorption (Celiac disease, bariatric surgery, chronic kidney disease, liver disease)
  • Aged 65 or older due to having have thinner skin

Other Factors:

  • Obesity
  • Pregnant women
  • Premenopausal women
  • Poor nutritional intake

Sneaky, Vague Symptoms

The symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can be sneaky and are often attributed to other causes. These vague symptoms often include general aches and pains and feeling tired. In fact, some people may not have any symptoms at all. Let’s take a closer look at more common symptoms of low Vit D.

Oh My Aching Bones

Vitamin D helps to support your bone health and improves your body’s absorption of calcium. Therefore, low Vit D levels may be causing the persistent aches and pains your body is experiencing. Common areas for these aches and pains include your shins, angles, forearms, lower back and knees. In some cases, the pain experienced is severe enough to significantly limit daily activities.

A Depressed Mood

We all feel down at times in our life. However, when the blues last for long periods of time, it may be a sign of low Vit D levels. Studies have shown a relationship between low Vit D levels and depression, especially in older adults. In addition, supplementing Vit D in people with seasonal depression could improve mood during the colder months.

Bone Loss

Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption and bone metabolism. As we age, it is common practice to take calcium supplements to prevent or treat bone loss. However, many people are also Vit D deficient. Researchers have found a strong link between low bone mineral density and low Vit D levels.

Slow Wound Healing

Wounds that heal slowly after surgery, injury or infection may be a sign of low Vit D levels. Vit D is important for healing because of the role it plays in controlling inflammation and fighting infection.

Muscle Pain

Vit D may play a role in chronic muscle pain. Vit D receptors are present in nociceptors, the nerve cells that cause pain. In a study with rats, pain and sensitivity was shown to occur when these receptors in muscles were stimulated.

Diet and Maintaining Vit D Levels

Diet provides only 20% of Vit D and 80% comes from our skin’s UVB exposure to the sun. The Endocrine Society recommends 600-1,000 IU/day for adults age 19-70 years. Getting Vit D from your diet alone is difficult; therefore, it is important to eat foods rich in the sunshine vitamin. These include:

  • Salmon
  • Canned tuna
  • Oysters
  • Shrimp
  • Egg Yolks
  • Mushrooms
  • Herring and Sardines
  • Cod Liver Oil
  • Fortified foods
  • Cow milk
  • Soy milk
  • Orange juice
  • Cereal and oatmeal

Sunscreen and Vitamin D

UVB wavelengths are responsible for triggering Vitamin D production. Although high SPF sunscreens filter out most of the sun's UV radiation, some of the UV waves still reach your skin. In fact, studies have shown people who use sunscreen daily can continue maintaining their vitamin D levels.

Treatment for Vitamin D Deficiency

The amount of Vit D supplement needed to correct a deficiency will depend on several factors. These include the severity of your deficiency and your overall health status. The time of year also plays a role, with winter months spent more indoors, but summer months out in the sun.

If supplements are needed, they should be taken with a meal that contains fat. Studies have shown 32% more Vit D is absorbed with fat intake when compared to taking on an empty stomach.

Physicians order Vit D supplements on a daily, weekly or monthly basis depending on your overall levels. Typically, blood levels are tested every 2-3 months to make sure levels improve with the supplements.

The Bottom Line

Vitamin D plays an important role in many of our body’s systems. In addition, Vit D helps the body absorb calcium for strong and healthy bones. Low Vit D can lead to bone diseases and affect immunity and nerve and muscle systems. Although sun exposure provides the majority of Vit D, you can boost your Vit D intake through diet and supplements. If you feel like you are Vit D deficient, talk to your doctor about a blood work to test your level.

Additional Resources:

Vitamin D Deficiency- Harvard Medical School

Am I Deficient in Vitamin D- Vitamin D Council

Nurse with over 20 years experience in a variety of settings and job roles. Enjoys writing about topics encountered in her own daily practice.

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7 Comment(s)

Here.I.Stand, BSN, RN

Specializes in SICU, trauma, neuro. Has 16 years experience.

I found out I was pretty severely deficient maybe a year ago; I had all of the symptoms you note except possibly bone loss... I haven’t had a scan so don’t know about that.

I have two significant factors that are not mentioned here: 1) I cover my body except for my face, hands, and sometimes my neck. and 2) I live in a relatively Northern latitude. For a good part of the year, the sun goes down before dinner time.

Of course I am now on a hefty dose of D3, but another thing I did was to arrange potted plants around the perimeter of my deck; I can lay down and soak up the sun without neighbors seeing me uncovered. 😊

Thanks for the info!

J.Adderton, BSN, MSN

Specializes in Clinical Leadership, Staff Development, Education. Has 27 years experience.

Thanks for sharing the 2 extra factors! You have the perfect plan- lay in sun and relax.


Specializes in Surgical, quality,management. Has 12 years experience.

I burn like a vampire when exposed to sun and tend to cover up because of it. However my research and experimentation is 20min in the sun with the delicate areas of backs of knees and insides of arms.

Edited by K+MgSO4


Has 7 years experience.

When I worked in an office, anybody reporting chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia etc was tested for D deficiency. Roughly 80% were low & put on supplements. It was surprising how effective it could be with the fibromyalgia pts.


Has 11 years experience.

Sometimes vitamin D deficiency is due to food and not to sun exposure, especially in some Arab countries and the best times for exposure to the sun from 1 pm to 3 pm, as well as the work of periodic tests and ascertain the normal rate.


Specializes in SCRN. Has 6 years experience.

Not a tanning fan here, also had low level, take 2000 daily, really made a difference.


Specializes in CMSRN. Has 9 years experience.

Night shift plus the sun and I do not get along. Spent years hurting and got fed up. MD wanted to put me on a medication. I ended asking to check for deficiencies first. So excited to know that lack of Vit D was the culprit. Took a bit to feel better. If I go off Vit D for awhile the symptoms come rearing their ugly head.

I usually get a talking to from my husband. He now reminds me daily. What can I say, I am a stubborn.