Vitamin D Deficiencies, Rickets
Vitamin D's role in the body is to help maintain adequate calcium levels and support bone health and development. Without sufficient Vitamin D, the results are rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults.
Rickets was first described by British physician Daniel Whistler in 1645. By the late 19th century, doctors in Germany were treating children with cod liver oil to prevent the disease. The process of artificially adding Vitamin D to food was invented in the 1930s. At that time, rickets was a serious health threat in the United States, and this led to the milk fortification program still in use by the dairy industry today. But according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the disease is not history any means. Children , are still developing the disease, which is characterized by soft bones, abnormal walking, bone and muscle pain, dental abnormalities and fractures.
Both rickets and osteoporosis are seen more often in certain ethnic groups, including those of Asian, Middle Eastern and African backgrounds. Scientists think this may be due to the both cultural and biological issues: darker-skinned individuals have less ability to synthesize Vitamin D from sunlight, while Asian cultures do not consume dairy products as part of their normal diet, nor does their culture favor sun exposure.
In addition to skin color and dietary habits, infants who are breast-fed to the prolonged exclusion of all else are more likely to develop rickets, as breast milk contains inadequate amounts of Vitamin D. Children and adults who are homebound, or live in extremely cold climates, or climates with limited opportunities for sunlight, are also more likely to develop bone abnormalities.
Obese individuals (with a Body Mass Index equal to or greater than 30) also have issues with Vitamin D deficiency. Their ability to synthesize Vitamin D is no different, but as body fat increases, there is less Vitamin D in the blood, possibly because more of it is stored in fat tissue.
Individuals who follow strict vegan diet principles, consuming no fish, flesh or dairy products, or those who are lactose-intolerant, may also be at risk for developing a Vitamin D deficiency.
In older people, inadequate intake of Vitamin D, coupled with inadequate calcium intake can lead of osteoporosis, which is characterized by fragile, brittle bones that fracture easily. At particular risk are postmenopausal women, individuals who have difficulty exercising and those on long-term steroid therapy.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, it is estimated that 10 million Americans already have the disease, and it is estimated that another 34 million are at risk due to low bone mass. Eighty percent of the currently diagnosed patients are women. The disease has no symptoms, until fracture occur and a diagnosis is made; by that time, significant bone loss (up to 20 percent in the 10 year period following menopause) may have occurred.