For most of us, it is hard to not notice the recent hype about the rampancy of vitamin D insufficiency or deficiency among Indians. Some may have already found that they are deficient and probably quite badly so. So what has happened in the recent past for this sudden increase in numbers? Are these numbers right? Should we worry? What about children?
The fact is it is true! Apparently, Vitamin D deficiency is the most under diagnosed and under treated deficiency in the world! An article published in a scientific journal this February talks about widespread prevalence of vitamin D deficiency (70-100%) in the general population across socioeconomic strata, age and gender in our country. The paper states that even seeming healthy adults and adolescents seem to be deficient.
So what is fuelling this?
Vitamin D can be produced in the body if there is adequate exposure to sunlight; to be more precise the UV ‘B’ rays of the sun. It is produced in the skin and then turned into the “active forms” in two steps by the liver and kidney. Sunlight alone can do the job, but the other way the body can get vitamin D is through diet. But unfortunately foods that are good sources are not something which we eat regularly; for example- eggs, beef liver, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna. Another option is cod liver oil capsules. For vegetarians it is a bigger challenge! Also very few milk and dairy products are enriched with vitamin D unlike countries in the west. So sunshine is the best bet to get vitamin D, but what has happened as lack of abundant sunshine is not the problem!
- Change in lifestyle- kids are spending more time indoors, increased screen time, and adults in the family are spending more time in air conditioned cars, offices and gyms –hence not much exposure to sunlight.
- Sports/Play not taken seriously – sports or free play is the first to be sacrificed for academic pursuits or tuitions. Physical education class which in most schools is only twice a week is borrowed for finishing the academic year’s portions especially in higher classes.
- Social Stigma -added to the above is the cultural /social stigma attached to dark skin. There is excessive use of sunblock and you also come across teen girls going to the extent of covering exposed limbs to avoid sunlight thereby completely avoiding positive effects of sunshine.
- Not enough Calcium – vitamin D and calcium work together for maintaining good bone health. In most instances the calcium intake is insufficient and children/adult do not meet the required servings (five) of milk and milk products daily.
- Obesity – another downside of being obese is vitamin D insufficiency, as it gets deposited in the fat stores and is not available for use by the body.
- Not found in a variety of foods -as mentioned above dietary sources are fairly limited unlike other vitamins, hence it is challenging to get this vitamin through diet.
- Cost – even if the doctor requests this test, cost could be one reason why there could be some procrastination – tests for vitamin D costs around 1500/-
So what should we do?