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Vitamin D is found in many foods, including fish, eggs, fortified milk, and cod liver oil. The sun also adds to the body's daily production of vitamin D, and as little as 10 minutes of exposure is thought to prevent deficiency.
The term "vitamin D" refers to several different forms of this vitamin. Two forms are important in humans: vitamin D2, which is made by plants, and vitamin D3, which is made by human skin when exposed to sunlight. Foods may be fortified with vitamin D2 or D3.
The major role of vitamin D is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which forms and maintains strong bones. It is used alone or together with calcium to improve bone health and decrease fractures. Vitamin D may also protect against osteoporosis, high blood pressure, cancer, and other diseases.
Rickets and osteomalacia are classic vitamin D deficiency diseases. In children, vitamin D deficiency causes rickets, which is a softening or weakening of the bones. In adults, vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteomalacia, which causes weak bones and muscles. People who may be at a high risk for vitamin D deficiency include those who are elderly or obese, those with limited sun exposure, and babies who are exclusively breastfed. People who have conditions such as cystic fibrosis (mucus build-up in the lungs) or inflammatory bowel disease are also at risk for vitamin D deficiency.