Despite Indian being a tropical country, there is a significant increase in cases of vitamin D deficiency in both children and adults. In a recent study conducted by ASSOCHAM, it was found that 8 in 10 people suffer from vitamin D deficiency in Delhi.
The study further highlighted that individuals in the age group of 21-35 had maximum insufficiency and a majority of them were not aware of the deficiency in their bodies. Vitamin D is made by our skin when exposed to sunlight and is essential for our body as it absorbs calcium for healthy bones from birth.
80-90 per cent of women (in the age group of 30-40 years) suffer from several health issues like osteoporosis, reduced bone density or osteomalacia (which is the softening of bones of legs in women and spine problems like backache and spondylosis due to vitamin D deficiency).
Furthermore, an aggravation in this deficiency can cause bone and muscle aches leading to both women and children being more prone to fractures. Women also often complain of backache post delivering a child and think that it is due to epidural anaesthesia or strain. However, this too is caused due to vitamin D deficiency.
Sr Consultant – Internal Medicine, Aster CMI Hospital, Dr Bindumathi P L highlights on the health hazards of vitamin D deficiency, which leads to deficiency and how to deal with this problem.
The deficiency also affects several other conditions indirectly, where symptoms are subtle. Severe vitamin D deficiency is associated with uncontrolled diabetes, dementia, depression, infertility, PCOD (polycystic ovarian disease) in young girls and women, hypertension and ischemic heart disease.
It also increases cognitive impairment in Alzheimer patients and can further lead to a rise in the number of cancer deaths in the country by increasing the risk of breast cancer and colon polyps which leads to colon cancer among individuals. The deficiency also affects the immune system leading to individuals being prone to viral and tuberculosis infections and exacerbation of bronchial asthma among asthma patients.
Recent findings have also highlighted that vitamin D can help in managing symptoms of Crohn’s disease which is characterised by chronic diarrhoea caused due to inflammatory bowel disease. All these conditions can improve with vitamin D supplementation.
Why the deficiency occurs
- Most Indians wear full clothes and do not get adequate exposure to sunlight. We do not usually sunbathe and use a sunscreen with SPF 30 which affects the production of vitamin D. In the last decade our lifestyles have undergone a drastic change where most of us have become less active with fewer outdoor activities which have further limited our exposure to the sun.
- Dark skinned and obese individuals are advised to expose themselves more to sunlight and for a longer duration of time as their body produce more amount of melanin leading to reduced vitamin D production. However, Caucasians are able to get 20000 IU (International Units) of vitamin D3 equal to 1MED (Minimal Erythemal Dose), after sunlight exposure for a couple of hours.
- Intestinal absorption of calcium is doubled during pregnancy. Low calcium intake during pregnancy can cause overt bone disease from before birth and impairment of bone quality after birth. Reduced bone mass in pregnant women is prone to eclampsia. Hence, it advisable for expecting mothers to maintain regular calcium intake in order to ensure good health for themselves and their child.
- Rapid urbanisation is also one of the leading causes of vitamin D deficiency in children. Due to lack of free spaces, children are not allowed to play freely in grounds and hence most of them are getting digitally addicted. This further results in caries (decay of tooth) in their teeth leading to inadequate formation of enamel. Rickets- a childhood disease, characterized by bow legs, widened forehead, ribs beading is also caused due to lack of Vit D.
- Lack of food fortification of dairy products like milk, curd, butter, etc. reduces the vitamin D levels in these products. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDC) Bisphenol A (BPA), is often found in plastics and other consumer products which makes fortification necessary as this may even slightly reduce vitamin D among individuals.
- Vegans are more prone to Vitamin D deficiency as they refrain from consuming animal foods and are more dependent on cereal-based diets than dairy products.
- Dieting also leads to vitamin D deficiency as people consume inadequate milk while dieting. On average, adults need to consume about 1000 mg of calcium in a day. One gets about 240 mg from a tall glass of milk. It is necessary to remember that for the proper functioning of our bodies, daily consumption of 1000mg of calcium is important. With increasing age, bone health among women decreases and hence consumption of calcium becomes essential for them.
How you can make up
- Regular consultation from a medical expert for age, weight and other factors can help in correcting one’s vitamin D deficiency
- 30 minutes in midday 10 am to 3 pm sun, twice per week may help increase and maintain Vitamin D levels, it is important to forgo sunscreen. A simple walk with arms and legs exposed is also beneficial.
- Use Fortified dairy products, juice, cereals and oils.
- They're also a few natural, or dietary, sources of vitamin D like cod liver oil, salmon fish, sardines, egg yolk and mushroom.