Vitamin D deficiency: the symptoms

It was only when Debbie’s hair starting falling out that she checked her Vitamin D levels

Debbie and Gary Devane with their children,  Zack (8), Ryan (17), Sophia and Pippa (4), and Josh (14), at their home in Portarlington, Co Laois. Photograph: James Flynn/APX

Debbie and Gary Devane with their children, Zack (8), Ryan (17), Sophia and Pippa (4), and Josh (14), at their home in Portarlington, Co Laois. Photograph: James Flynn/APX

 

After Debbie Devane gave birth to very premature twins at 24 weeks in 2012, it was little surprise to her that she was pale and exhausted in the year that followed.

Little Sophia and Pippa had to stay at the Coombe hospital in Dublin for their first five months and, even after they were able to go home to Mountmellick, Co Laois, they were back in hospital nearly every fortnight for a good while after that.

“My hair was actually falling out,” says Debbie (40) as she describes how she was feeling in those months. At the ime, she just put it all down to stress.

However, she went to her GP to see if anything could be done and a nurse there said she would check her vitamin D level through a blood test.

About a week later Debbie got a call to say her vitamin D level was “rock bottom”, which would explain the tiredness and other symptoms. She was put on a supplement, which she took until her level came back up to optimal.

About the same time her son Ryan, a typical indoors- loving teenager, was always complaining of tiredness and was having frequent infections.

Various blood tests were done and he too was found to have a low level of vitamin D. He was also put on a supplement until his level was back up.

A year ago Debbie was again struggling with health problems and was being tested for coeliac disease when blood tests showed that her vitamin D levels were extremely low once more.

At that stage she was getting outdoors to run three times a week, she explains, so the problem was definitely diet-related.

She was put on another supplement and after she finished that she had a Dexa (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry) scan, which showed signs of osteopenia, the early stage of osteoporosis.

Calcium and vitamin D supplements would usually be recommended but because she was on medication for high blood pressure, she was advised that it would be better for her to get these through diet. So she and her husband, Gary, started using fortified milk all the time as a family.

It is hard to get enough vitamin D through food, or sunshine living in Ireland, she says.

She also eats oily fish to boost her levels. However, she says Ryan, now aged 17, and the other children, Josh (14), Zack (eight) and Sophia and Pippa, aren’t keen on it.

“For us I find the milk is the easiest way to get it into you, without having to take supplements,” she says.

Vitamin D: What to eat The amount of vitamin D needed varies from individual to individual but we are encouraged by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland to aim for an average of about five micrograms (5g) a day from food. Eating oily fish a couple of times a week would give us that, as would a daily 250ml glass of fortified milk. More foods are being fortified with vitamin D now, so check the labels. Foods rich in vitamin D include: A 150g serving of trout – 15 micrograms (15g) A 150g serving of salmon – 12 micrograms (12g) A 150g serving of tuna – 4.5 micrograms (4.5g) One egg – almost 2 micrograms (2g) A 200ml serving of fortified milk – 4 micrograms (4g) depending on the brand One cup of fortified cereal flakes, up to 2.5 micrograms (2.5g)

Source: Healthy Eating and Active Living for Adults, Teenagers and Children over 5 Years, available on fsai.ie

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