Vitamin D deficiency is ‘pandemic’, yet it is the most under diagnosed and under treated nutritional deficiency in the world.
In India, widely consumed food items such as dairy products are rarely sufficient for Vitamin D needs and in today’s mode of living it is almost a big NO to sun exposure because of which you negate potential benefits of plentiful sunshine. Vitamin D deficiency is likely to play an important role in the very high prevalence of rickets, osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer and infections such as tuberculosis in India. Fortification of staple foods with vitamin D is the most viable population based strategy to achieve vitamin D sufficiency.
Recent studies have revealed that 65-70 per cent Indians are Vitamin D deficient and another 15 per cent are insufficient. Wondering what’s all the fuss about? For starters, Vitamin D is not a simple vitamin. It is a steroid hormone that impacts virtually every cell in the body. It is synthesized in the skin on exposure to sunshine and is needed to absorb calcium and for bone health. A lack of vitamin D does not just affect your bones, but poses more serious problems when neglected. The human body can make its own vitamin D when exposed to sunlight as I mentioned earlier, unlike other vitamins. This vitamin is essential for overall good health and strong bones and also plays an important role in the functioning of your muscles, brain, lungs and heart and ensures that your body fights infection. While staying in the sun for long hours is not recommended especially without the use of sunscreen, many people are taking the advice far too seriously. In an attempt to avoid sun exposure, they completely deprive their body of sunlight which is so essential for the human body to make vitamin D.
The most accurate way to determine this deficiency is through a blood test measuring the 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels. Blood tests for calcium and phosphate levels and liver function may also show changes linked to a low level of vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiency doesn’t always cause symptoms. When it does, some of the symptoms may include:
- Difficulty in thinking clearly
- Bone pain
- Frequent bone fractures
- Muscle weakness
- Soft bones
- Unexplained Fatigue etc.
Doctors often treat vitamin D deficiencies by prescribing or recommending vitamin D supplements. The amount you should take usually depends on how low your vitamin D levels are. For example, some people may reach their vitamin D intake by taking a multivitamin. These usually have between 400 and 800 IU of vitamin D with each serving. However, people who are very deficient in vitamin D may need higher levels of supplementation which is about 1,000 IU per day.
The ODS recommends the following dietary allowances for eating foods that contain vitamin D as well as taking supplements:
- ages 0 to 12 months: 400 IU
- ages 1 to 70 years (including pregnancy and lactating): 600 IU
- ages 70 and older: 800 IU
Foods that are naturally high in vitamin D include:
- fatty fish, such as mackerel, salmon, and tuna
- egg yolks
- fish liver oils
However, food manufacturers often add or fortify foods with vitamin D. Examples include:
- breakfast cereals
- orange juice
Manufacturers also add vitamin D to some infant formulas to reduce the risk that infants will have low levels.
It’s also possible to increase vitamin D levels by going outside more. About 15 minutes of sun exposure (without sunscreen on) is usually enough to build up vitamin D levels. Several factors can influence the amount of sun exposure you get, including the time of year, cloud cover, and the time of day. Another consideration is that ultraviolet B radiation can’t penetrate glass. This type of radiation is what stimulates vitamin D production. So even if you’re taking in sunlight through a window, you won’t get the benefit of vitamin D production.
Sunscreen is still very important to your health.