In adults, vitamin D deficiency may result in a softening of the bones known as osteomalacia. This condition is treated with vitamin D, sometimes in combination with calcium supplements. Osteomalacia should be diagnosed, and its treatment monitored, by a doctor. In people of any age, vitamin D deficiency causes abnormal bone formation. In addition, vitamin D deficiency can cause muscle weakness, which improves with vitamin D supplementation.7 Vitamin D deficiency occurs more commonly following winter, owing to restricted sunlight exposure during that season. Living in an area with a lot of atmospheric pollution, which can block the sun's ultraviolet rays, also appears to increase the risk of vitamin D deficiency.89
Vitamin D deficiency is more common in strict vegetarians (who avoid vitamin D-fortified dairy foods), dark-skinned people,10 alcoholics, and people with liver or kidney disease. People with liver and kidney disease can make vitamin D but cannot activate it.
Vitamin D deficiency is more common in people suffering from intestinal malabsorption, which may have occurred following previous intestinal surgeries, or from celiac disease.11 People with insufficient pancreatic function (e.g., those with pancreatitis or cystic fibrosis) tend to be deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is also common in individuals with hyperthyroidism (Graves' disease), particularly women.12
In children, vitamin D deficiency is called rickets and causes a bowing of bones not seen in adults with vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency is common among people with hyperparathyroidism, a condition in which the parathyroid gland is overactive. In a study of 124 people with mild hyperparathyroidism, vitamin D levels were below normal in 7% of them and suboptimal in 53% of them.13 Vitamin D deficiency is also common in men with advanced prostate cancer. In one study, 44% of 16 men with advanced prostate cancer had decreased blood levels of vitamin D.14
One in seven adults has been reported to be deficient in vitamin D.15 In one study, 42% of hospitalized patients under age 65 were reported to be vitamin D deficient.16 In this same study, 37% of the people were found to be deficient in vitamin D, despite the fact they were eating the currently recommended amount of this nutrient. Vitamin D deficiency is particularly common among the elderly. Age-related decline in vitamin D status may be due to reduced absorption, transport, or liver metabolism of vitamin D.17