Vitamin D Deficiency and Its Connection to HIV

Vitamin D in the Body and How a Deficiency is Linked to HIV

Sun shining on woman's face
Sun shining on woman's face. Getty Images/Adam Hester/Blend Images

Vitamin D is an important nutrient for bone health, calcium balance, and immune function — yet it has been found to be low in many people infected with HIV.

Let's learn more about Vitamin D in the body, and how a deficiency in vitamin D is connected to HIV.

Where Do We Get Our Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is one of the body's fat-soluble vitamins. Unlike may other vitamins, it's only found in a few food sources  — like certain fish and fortified foods, such as milk and cereals.

Most vitamin D is made in our body after sun exposure.

When our body's skin is exposed to the ultraviolet rays of sunlight, a cholesterol-like molecule is released into the bloodstream, making its way to the liver. Once in the liver, it's converted into 25-hydroxyvitamin D. This molecule then travels to the kidney where it is converted into 1,25 dihydroxyvitamin D, the active form of vitamin D.

A person can also get Vitamin D from supplements — either as a single vitamin or as part of a multivitamin. There are also vitamin D prescriptions given to certain patients with illnesses that predispose them to having low vitamin D levels. 

Why Do People Become Vitamin D Deficient?

There are a number of reasons why a person may have vitamin D deficiency.

For instance, certain diseases can cause vitamin D deficiency, like liver and kidney disease — since liver and kidney function are essential for the metabolism of vitamin D in the body.

Celiac disease, or other diseases that prevent proper absorption of vitamin D in the gut, can also cause vitamin D deficiency.

People who get little sunlight and/or have a diet poor in vitamin D may also develop vitamin D deficiency. This is especially common in elderly people who live in nursing homes.


Obesity and medications that affect the way vitamin D is made in the body, like certain anti-seizure medications, may also predispose a person to vitamin D deficiency.

What is the Connection Between HIV and Vitamin D Deficiency?

According to a 2012 study in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, over 85 percent of people with HIV have low vitamin D levels — the precise reason as to why this percentage is so high is unclear. 

In addition, there is scientific evidence showing that certain antiretroviral medications, interfere with the way Vitamin D is made in the body. This likely contributes to vitamin D deficiency in people infected with HIV. 

How Is Vitamin D Deficiency Diagnosed?

 By measuring the amount of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in the blood, a doctor can determine if a person has enough vitamin D in their body.

How Vitamin D Deficiency Is Treated

Luckily, there is a relatively easy way to restore vitamin D supplies — by taking vitamin D supplements. A doctor can prescribe a dose that is appropriate for them — a common dose prescribed is 50,000 IU of vitamin D taken orally once each week for 8 weeks.

After restoring the vitamin D level, a doctor will typically prescribe a dose of 400 to 800 IU of vitamin D3 taken orally per day. Some experts suggest that higher doses of vitamin D are required each day to maintain a healthy balance.

It's important to  note that even though Vitamin D deficiency is linked to low sunlight, it's critical that a person protect themselves from harmful sun rays, as recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology

What Can I Do?

At your next doctor's visit, talk to him or her about vitamin D. Make certain that deficiency is not a problem for you, and that you are doing everything you can to maintain a healthy level of this important vitamin.


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American Academy of Dermatology. (2015). Vitamin D and UV Exposure. Retrieved October 1st 2015. 

Cannell, JJ, Hollis BW, Zasloff M, Heaney RP. Diagnosis and Treatment of Vitamin D deficiency.Expert Opin Pharmacother.2008 Jan;9(1):107-18.

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Pinzone MR. Vitamin D deficiency in HIV infection: an underestimated and undertreated epidemic. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2013 May;17(9):1218-32.

Yin M. Vitamin D, bone, and HIV infection. Top Antivir Med. 2012 Dec;20(5):168-72.

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