It may be surprising but majority of city dwellers in the country today do not have sufficient levels of Vitamin D – this is despite India being a tropical country and has sunshine throughout the year.
Vitamin D, popularly known as the sunshine vitamin is in general required for well-being of human body. Research has shown that even a foetus requires Vitamin D. “Vitamin D is critically important for the development, growth, and maintenance of a healthy body, beginning with gestation in the womb and continuing throughout the lifespan,” said vitamindcouncilorg.com, a not-for-profit organization based in US working on the awareness of the importance on Vitamin D.
Why should we be concerned?
“The shortage of Vitamin D could lead to muscle and bone weaknesses. This results in difficulty in getting up and walking. The shortage could lead of thinning of bones resulting in osteoporosis among aged patients,” said Dr Prasanna Kumar, a Bangalore-based endocrinologist in a telephonic interview with Anand Labs.
“Vitamin D is required for maintenance of phosphorus and calcium levels in our blood which will further be absorbed by bones. Hence to keep our bones healthy, it is vital to maintain good levels of Vitamin D,” said Madhavi Korti, a Pondicherry-based dietician.
A rough analysis of four months data collected by Anand Lab (total of 6586 tests) showed close to 55.6% individuals to be vitamin D deficient (less than 20 nanogram/ml) and about 14.8% individuals in the insufficient range (20 to 30 nanogram/ml). This was a measurement of total vitamin D levels.
Anand Lab does vitamin D detection (combination of vitamin D2 & D3) by Liquid Chromatography- Tandem Mass Spectroscopy (LC-MS/MS). This is a new method being followed by the lab unlike the most commonly used method in which immunoassays use antibodies to test Vitamin D levels. “The advantage of LC-MS method is that it gives separate values for Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3 levels unlike immunoassays which do not separate the values,” said Dr Harneet Kaur, a consultant biochemist with Anand Lab.
To simplify the jargons, Vitamin D is classified into two based on their sources: Vitamin D2 found mainly in from vegetable sources and Vitamin D3 synthesised by skin’s exposure to sun and animal sources such as milk and egg. There are various views on what kind of vitamin D is more suitable for human body and doctors across the world have not been able to arrive at a conclusion yet. It is important to note that doctors and nutritionists in India suggest that we take both kinds of Vitamin D.
What is the reason for such low levels?
“Shortage of Vitamin D is a global phenomenon. Earlier people did not mind having a dark skin, but today when they go out in sun they apply sun block, which stops the skin from harnessing the sunlight or we travel in air-conditioned cars because we cannot bear the sunlight and heat,” said Prahlad Thakkar, a Mumbai-based general physician. Adding to the problem is the fact that people today live a sedentary lifestyle and have no time to expose themselves to sunlight. When once they enter the air-conditioned atmosphere of their offices, they often get out only after sunset.
It is important to understand how Vitamin D is made in our body. It uses ultraviolet rays in the sunlight and cholesterol in the skin to make vitamin D. “You should understand that Vitamin D acts as a steroid hormone and because it can be produced in the body and has specific target tissues it need not be supplied through food,” said Korti. “Though vitamin D is available in plant food and animal food, I still insist my clients get enough sunshine exposure because that’s the best way we can get the ‘sunshine vitamin’.
However, in case someone is not able to spend time in sunlight at all, then there are supplements available, but that should be kept as the last option, ” she added.
Some helpful tips to harness sunshine:
- If your workplace is close by, take a walk to your office.
- Chose running outdoors over gym or any other indoor activity
- The best time to harness sun-shine is between 12 pm and 2 pm.
- Keep at least 20 per cent of skin exposed to harness sunshine.
- If your office has an open café, use it over indoors to have lunch with colleagues.
- Or spend sometime around lunch time at your office terrace
- If you are a home maker, walk to your nearby grocery store around lunch time.
So it is important to know the status of your vitamin D. Go get your blood tested today.