Vitamin D Deficiency: Is the sun shining enough on you

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An increasing emphasis on the hazardous effects of the sun or more specifically, the UV rays of the sun in the last couple of decades has shifted our attention from the beneficial effects of the sun: the ‘Sun Vitamin’ or Vitamin D. Deficiency in Vitamin D has been a persistent problem since a very long time, a situation that strongly contradicts all the medical advances the world has seen, with over a billion people worldwide suffering from this condition.

Vitamin D, also described as “the Sun Vitamin” is a steroid with hormone like activity. It regulates the functions of over 200 genes and is essential for growth and development. It helps ensure that the body absorbs and retains calcium and phosphorus, both critical for building bone. Laboratory studies show that vitamin D can reduce cancer cell growth and plays a critical role in controlling infections.

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Why so many people are at risk of Vitamin D deficiency

Exposure to sunshine each day helps the human body to manufacture the required amount of vitamin D. To prevent deficiency, one should spend 15 to 20 minutes daily in the sunshine with 40% of the skin surface exposed. However, due to fear of developing skin cancer and to avoid other damaging effects of the sun on the skin, most people avoid sun exposure. High concentration of melanin in the skin also slows the production of vitamin D; similarly aging greatly reduces skin production of vitamin D. Use of sunblock, common window glass in homes or cars and clothing, all effectively block UVB radiation – even in the summer. People who work indoors, wear extensive clothing, regularly use sunblock, are dark skinned, obese, aged or consciously avoid the sun, are at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

This major public health problem affects individuals across all life stages, especially pregnant women, neonates, infants, children and the elderly. Vitamin D3 deficiency can result in obesity, diabetes, hypertension, depression, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, osteoporosis and neuro – degenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease. Being “D-deficient” may even contribute to the development of cancers, especially breast, prostate, and colon cancers, as well as infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and even the seasonal flu. Indeed, in industrialized countries, doctors are even seeing the resurgence of rickets, the bone-weakening disease that had been largely eradicated through vitamin D fortification. 

Current research indicates vitamin D deficiency plays a role in causing seventeen varieties of different cancers as well as heart disease, stroke, autoimmune diseases, birth defects, and periodontal disease.

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How to ensure proper intake of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is both a nutrient we eat and a hormone our bodies make. Its status depends on the production of vitamin D 3 in the skin under the influence of ultraviolet radiation from sun and vitamin D intake through diet or vitamin D supplements. Usually 50 to 90% of vitamin D is produced by sunshine exposure of skin and the remainder comes from the diet. Natural diet, most human consume, contain little vitamin D. Traditionally the human vitamin D system begins in the skin, not in the mouth.

However, important sources of vitamin D are egg yolk, fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, fortified dairy products and beef liver.

Long term strategies to address this deficiency problem should include public education, national health policies for screening and prevention through food fortification, and treatment with vitamin D supplementation.

With respect to preserving many aspects of our health, it is like poet and writer Walt Whitman had once said, “Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.”

Nutrients (vitamins & minerals) deficiency

Human body requires many different vitamins and minerals that are crucial for both development and preventing disease. These vitamins are not produced naturally in the body, so you have to get them from your diet. Due to increase in stress levels, lifestyle related illnesses are on rise which also results in vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Among all, vitamin B12 and D3 deficiency is becoming more prevalent.

Vitamin D

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Vitamin D, also known as “sunshine vitamin”, is a fat soluble compound which acts like hormone. The two major forms are vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is produced by the exposure to sunlight, specifically ultraviolet B radiation. Vitamin D3 plays a wide role in overall health however, worldwide, an estimated 1 billion people have inadequate levels of vitamin D in their blood, and deficiencies can be found in all ethnicities and age groups. A simple course of Vitamin D3 could help you live longer. Vitamin D3 is critical for bone health. It helps in regulating the formation of bone and absorption of calcium and phosphorus. Symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency can be vague — fatigue and muscle aches or weakness. If it goes on long term, a vitamin D deficiency can lead to softening of the bones.

Calcium

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Calcium is important for maintaining strong bones and controlling muscle and nerve function. Signs of severely low calcium include fatigue, muscle cramps, abnormal heart rhythms, and a poor appetite, Patton says. Make sure you’re getting enough with at least three servings of milk or yogurt a day, she says. Other good sources of calcium are cheese, calcium-fortified orange juice, and dark, leafy greens.

Potassium

Potassium helps the kidneys, heart, and other organs work properly. You could become low in potassium in the short term because of diarrhea or vomiting, excessive sweating, or antibiotics, or because of chronic conditions such as eating disorders and kidney disease. Symptoms of a deficiency include weight loss, muscle weakness, constipation, and in severe cases, an abnormal heart rhythm.

Iron

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Iron is a trace element. It is very important because it helps your body to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is composed of heme + globin, where globin is protein, & hence it is necessary to have sufficient proteins in diet. Low protein diet may also cause Anaemia. Iron helps your body make red blood cells. Iron carries oxygen and removing carbon dioxide from muscles, helping them function properly. The body needs iron in order to make proper use of the B vitamins.

Vitamin B12

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Vitamin B12 is a member of the vitamin B complex. It can be stored in small amounts in liver, kidney & other body tissues. Vitamin B12 aids the production of DNA and helps make neurotransmitters in the brain. All the vegetarian sources are devoid of B12. With an increasing number of vegans and people who’ve had weight loss surgery, vitamin B12 deficiency is becoming more common.Symptoms of severe B12 deficiency include numbness in the legs, hands, or feet; problems with walking and balance; anemia; fatigue; weakness; a swollen, inflamed tongue; memory loss; paranoia; and hallucinations.

Folate

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Folate, or folic acid, is a particularly important vitamin for women of childbearing age, which is why prenatal vitamins contain such a hefty dose. A folate deficiency can cause a decrease in the total number of cells and large red blood cells as well as neural tube defects in an unborn child.

Magnesium

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Magnesium helps support bone health and assists in energy production. Although deficiency is fairly uncommon in otherwise healthy people, it can affect those who take certain medications, have certain health conditions, or consume too much alcohol, according to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements.

Magnesium deficiency can cause loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, and weakness. In more severe cases, it can lead to numbness, muscle cramps, seizures, abnormal heart rhythms, personality changes, or low potassium or calcium levels.