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The Vitamin Whose Deficiency Causes Rickets

Vitamin D deficiency causes rickets, a condition that softens and weakens bones in children.

Rickets results from a lack of vitamin D, which is crucial for bone health.

Role of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for calcium and phosphorus metabolism. These minerals are vital for bone formation. Vitamin D helps absorb calcium and phosphorus from the gut. Without it, bones can’t mineralize properly, leading to rickets.

According to the Mayo Clinic, vitamin D deficiency disrupts calcium and phosphorus levels in bones. This imbalance causes the bones to become soft and weak.

Vitamin D is obtained from sunlight, food, and supplements. Sunlight triggers vitamin D production in the skin. Foods like fatty fish, fortified dairy, and egg yolks also provide vitamin D. Supplements are another source, especially in areas with limited sun exposure.

Biochemical Manifestations

Rickets diagnosis involves biochemical tests and radiographic evaluations. Key markers include low serum calcium and phosphate, high alkaline phosphatase (ALP), and low 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D). These markers indicate impaired bone mineralization.

According to NCBI, low calcium and phosphate levels are common in rickets. Elevated ALP reflects increased bone turnover. Low 25(OH)D levels confirm vitamin D deficiency.

Radiographs show characteristic bone changes in rickets. These include widened growth plates and bone deformities. Biochemical tests and radiographs together confirm the diagnosis.

Clinical Symptoms

Rickets symptoms vary by age. Infants may have seizures, tetany, and cardiomyopathy due to low calcium. Older children may experience bone pain, muscle weakness, and delayed walking. Skeletal deformities like bowed legs or knock knees are common.

According to the SEL Paediatric Vitamin D Guideline, adolescents may have similar symptoms. They may also suffer from acute respiratory infections. These symptoms result from weakened bones and muscles.

Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial. Untreated rickets can lead to permanent bone deformities and growth issues. Vitamin D supplementation and dietary changes can reverse the symptoms.

Historical Perspective

Rickets became widespread during the Industrial Revolution. Urbanization and industrialization limited sun exposure, leading to vitamin D deficiency. Factory labor, pollution, and crowded living conditions exacerbated the problem.

Recent studies, like those from ScienceDaily, suggest seasonal vitamin D deficiency also played a role. Limited sunlight during winter months contributed to rickets.

Modern Epidemiology

Rickets remains a concern today. It is more common in regions with limited sun exposure and poor diets. In the US, severe vitamin D deficiency affects 5.9% of the population. In Canada, it’s 7.4%, and in Europe, 13% (Nature). In developing countries, rates can be as high as 70%.

Public health initiatives have reduced rickets cases. But ongoing efforts are needed to address vitamin D deficiency globally.

Prevention and Treatment

Vitamin D supplements are effective in preventing and treating rickets. In Turkey, a nationwide program provided free vitamin D drops to children. This reduced rickets prevalence from 6% in 1998 to 0.1% in 2008 (NCBI).

In the US, vitamin D milk fortification began in the 1930s. This significantly decreased rickets cases. Supplements are especially crucial in areas with limited sun exposure.

Maternal Supplementation

Maternal vitamin D levels affect newborns. Combined prenatal and postpartum supplementation reduces rickets risk in infants. Prenatal supplementation alone is less effective (AAP).

Sustained supplementation during pregnancy and lactation is crucial. This ensures adequate vitamin D levels for both mother and child.

Dietary Sources

Educating parents and pregnant women about vitamin D-rich foods is essential. Fatty fish, fortified dairy, and egg yolks are exceptional sources. But dietary intake alone may not be sufficient, especially in areas with limited sun exposure.

Sun Exposure

Sunlight triggers vitamin D production in the skin. Safe sun exposure is crucial for vitamin D synthesis. But the safe threshold for sunlight exposure without increasing skin cancer risk is unclear (NCBI).

Genetic and Other Causes

Genetic disorders can also cause rickets. Vitamin D-dependent rickets (VDDR) results from defects in vitamin D metabolism or receptor function (Journal of Bone and Mineral Research). Conditions like celiac disease impair nutrient absorption and can lead to rickets (Rare Diseases).

Key Takeaways

  • Vitamin D is crucial for bone health.
  • Rickets results from vitamin D deficiency.
  • Symptoms include bone pain, muscle weakness, and skeletal deformities.
  • Historical and modern factors contribute to rickets prevalence.
  • Prevention includes supplements, dietary sources, and safe sun exposure.


Vitamin D deficiency is the main cause of rickets. This condition affects children worldwide, leading to bone deformities and muscle weakness. Historical and modern evidence highlights the importance of vitamin D for bone health. Public health initiatives and education can reduce rickets prevalence. Ongoing efforts are needed to address vitamin D deficiency and ensure children’s health globally.


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