Everything You Need To Know About Vitamin D
Until a few years back when people talked about deficiency related diseases, the discussions and related worry was centred on diseases like anaemia, scurvy, beri- beri etc. A larger part of 20th century saw scientists, medical fraternity and governments working towards eradication of these diseases but there is one more vitamin deficiency which has become a matter of debate and concern for everyone. If we talk about our own country, Vitamin D or the “Sunshine Vitamin” deficiency has reached the level of an epidemic. According to several surveys, tests and reports conducted from time to time by various organisations, about 70% of Indians are deficient in vitamin D and another 15% are insufficient. There are an increasing number of patients in lower age groups (even small children and women of middle age) who complain of osteoporosis or soft bones and fatigue related issues. Doctors have even correlated this deficiency with other infections and diseases like cancer, cardiovascular diseases and tuberculosis which is another epidemic in our country.
Isn’t it strange that unlike Europe or America’s where sunshine is limited, we have abundant sunshine in our country and are still so deficient? Is lack of knowledge about this vitamin and indoor staying habits responsible for this? So, what is it that a common man like you and me should know about vitamin D? In this article I have tried to answer a few questions by way of which we can know more about this topic.
What is Vitamin D and what are its types?
Vitamin D according to Wikipedia is a group of fat soluble secosteroids responsible for increasing intestinal absorption of calcium, magnesium and phosphate in the body which is essential for normal bone development and has multiple other biological effects. In humans the most important compounds in this group are vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) synthesized by our body through exposure to sunlight and D2 (ergocalciferol) which we can obtain from food. The major natural source of this vitamin is the synthesis of D3, which happens through exposure to sun and very few foods contain it.
Why Is Vitamin D Important? Why Is it Important for pregnant & nursing mothers?
Vitamin D plays an important role in calcium absorption in the body and even in metabolism. It also boosts immune function, averts risk of deadly diseases like cancer and is essential for averting neurological disorders and autoimmune diseases. It reduces insulin resistance in the body (reduces risk of type 2 diabetes) and is imperative for good teeth formation and oral health. Its deficiency mainly leads to rickets in small children (curved bones) and osteoporosis in adults, especially in women after menopause. Besides this abnormal bone growth, achy muscles, softened bones (leads to fracture), susceptibility to infections are some other problems which are caused by its deficiency.
Though each individual needs to have the requisite amount of this vitamin in their bodies, pregnant women and lactating mothers need it more as their own well being and their babies healthy development depends on it. Increased urination and foetal demands in a pregnant woman are the reason she needs it more. Feeding babies get it from their mothers. Studies have shown that Deficiency of this vitamin in pregnancy causes pre-term labour, pre eclampsia and chances of infections during or after delivery in the mother and baby are high. Even low birth weight of the baby, weak bones in new born babies, improper foetal growth and early tooth decay in children is linked to it. There has been a lot of research and debate on whether 600 International Units or 15 mcg which is normal daily vitamin D requirement in an adult is enough for pregnant women or they need more? But there are factors which determine how much of this vitamin an Individual needs which we will see in the next question.
Factors that determine how much Vitamin D an Individual needs:
- Where you live is the first factor? People living in areas with abundant sunshine have higher chances of exposure to the sun and thus synthesize more of this vitamin naturally.
- It is known that excessive exposure to sun or UV rays poses risk of cancer. People usually fear exposure to the sun, but, a little exposure at the right time can solve the issue.
- Skin pigmentation is another factor. People with dark skin have more melanin, which prevents formation of vitamin D in the body , meaning fair skinned people need to spend less time in sun in comparison to darker ones to form equal amount of vitamin D.
- Age, obesity (fat tissues inhibit formation of vitamin D), pollution are few other factors that are responsible for variable requirement of vitamin D in individuals.
So, until now we have seen that Vitamin D is an essential nutrient and most of the people are deficient in it. So how to get it is an important question?
- Optimum exposure to sun in happy hours (when sun rays are not harmful) is the first method. Every individual and especially pregnant women and new mothers should try and get at least 5- 10 minutes of sun exposure daily. Even their newborn children can be exposed. Depending on where you live, the time chosen should be from morning 8’o clock until 12 in the afternoon with arms, legs and face exposed without sunscreen.
- The second source of vitamin D is through certain foods. Egg yolks, salmon, cod liver oil, sardines etc are few non vegetarian options. For vegetarians milk which is fortified with the vitamin and even other food items like juices, cereals, etc which are fortified can be consumed. Checking the product label gives this information. For vegans and people who don’t take milk, even mushrooms and sunflower seeds are found to have this vitamin.
There are really limited food options from which you get the vitamin so, if need be, one can get themselves tested for checking the deficiency and take supplements under recommendation from a medical practitioner.
Thus, these were a few things which we need to keep in mind as far as vitamin D is concerned. A timely intervention in early childhood and even in young age can help one reduce problems created by its deficiency later. For pregnant women this knowledge can help in the proper fetal growth and avoiding birth time complications and new mothers can care well for themselves as well as their babies. I hope this information helps many people.
Disclaimer: The information in the article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor.
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