Do you remember when was the last time you had spent some time under the sun? Believe it or not, most of us spend time indoors more often than outdoors. Be it at the office or home, we are glued to computers, TV or mobile phones. We hardly go out in the sun, except when traveling to work that too some of us travel in four-wheelers. The lack of exposure to the sun is causing a major impact on our body, especially on the Vitamin D levels. Here’s everything you need to know about the importance of Vitamin D and its deficiency.
Why is Vitamin D important for us?
Vitamin D is important for the growth, development and normal functioning of bones as it helps in the absorption of calcium from the diet. It is synthesised by the body when exposed to the sun. But, when we remain indoors most of the time, our body fails to produce sufficient amounts of Vitamin D. This with over time can lead to low levels of Vitamin D in the body causing Vitamin D deficiency.
Lack of Vitamin D can lead to numerous health complications. Vitamin D deficiency is said to be associated with difficulty in making decisions in old age, increase chances of severe asthma in children and even increase the risk of death from heart diseases and cancers. In addition, certain bone diseases like osteoporosis (weak and brittle bones), osteomalacia (softening of the bones) and rickets (a condition in which the mineralization of the bone tissue does not occur properly which can lead to bone softening and occurrence of bone deformities) can be associated with low levels of Vitamin D deficiency.
Causes of Vitamin D deficiency
The lack of exposure to the sun is one of the many reasons that can lead to Vitamin D deficiency. Some of the other common causes of Vitamin D deficiency include:
Inadequate dietary intake: If you are not taking the recommended levels of Vitamin D through dietary sources, there are chances that you might suffer from Vitamin D deficiency. The recommended dose of Vitamin D per day is 400 IU/day as per ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) guidelines 2010.
Dark skinned people: Some people expose themselves to sunlight in spite of that their Vitamin D levels are low. This could be seen in dark skinned people. The presence of melanin pigment in the dark skin makes it difficult for the skin to produce a sufficient amount of Vitamin D.
Decreased function of the kidneys: With increasing age or due to some underlying diseases, the function of kidneys might be effected and hence can cause slow conversion of Vitamin D to its active form, which occurs in kidneys.
Inadequate absorption of Vitamin D by the digestive tract: In certain conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and cystic fibrosis, the ability of the intestine to function properly decreases. This, in turn, can affect its ability to absorb nutrients including Vitamin D from the diet, causing its deficiency.
How do you know if you have Vitamin D deficiency?
You need to take a Vitamin D test for which your blood sample will be taken and levels of Vitamin D will be measured in your blood. Low levels of Vitamin D can increase the risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis in adults.
The symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include getting sick very often, fatigue and tiredness, pain in bones and back, feeling depressed, impaired wound healing, pain in muscles and hair loss.
Treating low levels of Vitamin D
In case of low levels of Vitamin D, your doctor will advise you to take Vitamin D supplements depending upon your levels.
You might also be recommended to increase your intake of Vitamin D through diet and supplements. Foods that contain Vitamin D includes fish such as tuna and salmon, cereals, orange juice, soy milk, dairy products, cheese, egg yolks and beef liver.
Can excess Vitamin D levels cause any harm?
Although its rare, but levels of Vitamin D can exceed. It usually happens due to an overdose of Vitamin D supplements. As the levels of Vitamin D in the blood becomes high, the free Vitamin D causes increased absorption of calcium from the digestive system and increases the calcium levels in the blood (hypercalcemia) as well. In severe cases, it can lead to kidney failure and artery calcification (hardening of the arteries due to calcium deposition)
Treating high levels of Vitamin D
Your doctor might ask you to stop taking Vitamin D supplements and limiting dietary supplementation of Vitamin D. The increased calcium levels due to high levels of Vitamin D is treated by increasing salt and fluids through intravenous saline in the body as per your doctor’s advice.
Thus, Vitamin D is vital for our body and plays an important role in the absorption of minerals like calcium and phosphorus which leads to the maintenance of the immune system. Additionally, it helps in normal growth and development of bones and teeth with improved resistance against several diseases. It also plays a key role in lowering your risk of flu, heart diseases, multiple sclerosis, and depression. It is also shown that people planning to lose weight should take Vitamin D either through diet or supplements as it helps in weight loss.
Hence, load up your intake of the sunshine vitamin, the Vitamin D. Get your Vitamin D levels checked by getting a blood test done and prevent its deficiency in your body.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)