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Vitamin D deficiency

What is vitamin D deficiency?

Having a vitamin D deficiency means there is a low level of vitamin D in your blood. It can affect people of all ages including adults, children and babies. It is diagnosed with a blood test.

What does vitamin D do?

Vitamin D keeps your bones and teeth healthy and strong by maintaining the calcium level in your blood. Not enough vitamin D leads to bone diseases such as rickets and osteoporosis.

Vitamin D deficiency

Where does vitamin D come from?

Ninety per cent of the vitamin D your body needs comes from skin exposure to the sun and 10 per cent comes from food sources.

It is important to balance the risk of low vitamin D levels with the risk of skin damage, even cancer. Take care not to get sunburnt and avoid exposure to sunlight between 10 am and 3 pm particularly. The Cancer Council Australia recommend that people living in Brisbane will maintain an adequate vitamin D level with routine day to day outdoor activity and should use sun protection measures (sun screen, clothing, hats and shade) when outside for extended amounts of time.

You can also find a small amount of vitamin D in some foods, including:
• milk that has vitamin D added to it
• margarine that has vitamin D added to it
• oily fish e.g. salmon, sardines, tuna, herring and fish roe
• eggs
• Shitake mushrooms

Cod liver oil and liver are usually good sources of vitamin D but are not recommended in pregnancy. However, they are safe to use while breastfeeding.

All pregnant and breastfeeding women are encouraged to take  folic acid and iodine supplements routinely,  with other nutrient supplementation such as vitamin D only if a deficiency is identified. Dietary supplements containing vitamin D and other nutrient supplements are available at your local pharmacy.

Who is at risk of vitamin D deficiency?

  • People who are obese (BMI over 40)
  • People who do not have enough skin exposed to sunlight— often covering clothing for cultural or religious purposes or chronic conditions and prolonged hospitalisation
  • Naturally dark skinned people as they absorb less sunlight than fairer skinned people
  • People who do not have enough vitamin D in their diet
  • Babies and infants who breastfeed for longer than 12 months
    Breastfeeding to two years and beyond is recommended by the World Health Organization so it is important that you do not stop breastfeeding. Vitamin D supplements are available which can be safely used for both you and your baby, while continuing to breastfeed
  • Babies born to vitamin D deficient mothers may also develop vitamin D deficiency, particularly if they are breastfeeding
  • Preterm babies—as they have less time to accumulate vitamin D from their mother via the placenta
  • People with medical conditions that affect the absorption of vitamin D from the gut such as:
    • Previous weight loss surgery
    • Cystic Fibrosis
    • Coeliac disease
    • Crohn's disease

What are the problems with vitamin D deficiency?

In children:

  • Fits due to low calcium levels in the blood— hypocalcaemic seizures.
  • Soft bones which lead to bent limbs—rickets.

In adults:

  • Thinner, less dense bones—osteoporosis; fractures
  • Soft bones—osteomalacia
  • Body pains
  • Muscle weakness
  • Low vitamin D levels have also been linked with diabetes, multiple sclerosis, poor mental health

All of these problems can be prevented with treatment of the vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D deficiency

What is the treatment of vitamin D deficiency?

  • Vitamin D tablets, mixture or drops. The amount you need to take will depend on your vitamin D level. Talk to your doctor or midwife.

Treatment of vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy and breastfeeding is safe. The side effects of vitamin D treatment are uncommon but may include nausea, vomiting, constipation, weight loss, headache, thirst or needing to pass urine more often. It is recommended that you avoid taking other medications (including over the counter and health food products) that contain vitamin D unless advised by your health care professional.


  1. Osteoporosis Australia. 14/07/2017, osteoporosis.org.au
  2. NHMRC. Nutrient reference values for Australia and New Zealand including recommended dietary intakes. 2014
  3. Cancer Council Australia. Position Statement—risks and benefits of sun exposure. Viewed 8th August 2018
  4. Wagner CL, Greer FR. Section on breastfeeding and Committee on Nutrition. Prevention of rickets and vitamin D deficiency in infants, children and adolescents. Pediatrics 2008; 122; 1142–52.

© 2014 Mater Misericordiae Ltd. ACN 096 708 922.

Mater acknowledges consumer consultation in the development of this patient information.
Mater Doc Num: PI-CLN-430154
Last modified 13/8/2018.
Consumers were consulted in the development of this patient information.
Last consumer engagement date: 08/8/2018
For further translated health information, you can visit healthtranslations.vic.gov.au/ supported by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services that offers a range of patient information in multiple languages.
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