Vitamin D deficiency not uncommon in India
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In addition to its role in maintaining calcium and phosphorus balance, Vitamin D maintains maximum muscle strength, inhibits inflammatory activity and prevents many diseases related to the immune system, including Type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), rheumatoid arthritis and many common cancers. Low levels of Vitamin D have also been linked to hypertension, cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes mellitus, infectious diseases, tuberculosis, asthma, psoriasis and even depression.
Vitamin D deficiency is found even in countries like India, where sunlight is abundant. Though this vitamin is naturally present in very few foods, it is added to foods through fortification in developed countries. Due to this, deficiencies are uncommon. Rich food sources include fish, oils, ghee, butter and egg yolk. Compared to fish-liver oil, which is the best dietary source of Vitamin D, other foods are quite low in this vitamin. Ideally, a diet that includes dairy products, fish and egg yolk, coupled with adequate exposure to sunshine, should prevent Vitamin D deficiency.
When exposed to sunlight, a cholesterol derivative beneath the skin produces vitamin D3, which is the animal form of this vitamin. An exposure of half an hour a day, around mid day (11 am to 3 pm), is recommended for preventing deficiency.
In India, Vitamin D deficiency is more common in pregnant women, schoolchildren, young adults and elderly. Vitamin D deficiency can occur without any symptoms but when symptoms occur, it indicates severe deficiency. Vigilance of one's Vitamin D status by the yearly measurement of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, the storage form of this vitamin, which correlates best with deficiency symptoms, is suggested to be a part of an annual physical examination.
Vitamin D as a hormone influences many glands and tissues, including pancreas (insulin secretion), the parathyroid glands, pituitary gland, ovaries, testes, colon, placenta, uterus, heart, thymus, mammary tissue and brain (cerebellum).
Another role of this hormone is as an immunity enhancer. In a study, a third of the subjects suffering from tuberculosis were found to have Vitamin D deficiency and supplementation enhanced their recovery .
Studies have also found a relationship between Vitamin D and multiple sclerosis. Vitamin D deficiency also increases the risk of respiratory infections as well. High intake of Vitamin D by pregnant mothers reduces the risk of asthma by as much as 40 per cent in children (3-5 years old). Providing adequate vitamin D supplementation in pregnancy may lead to significant decrease in asthma incidence in children.
Low levels of Vitamin D have been associated with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Higher levels of Vitamin D in blood help reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes by almost 40 per cent.
If adequate exposure to sunshine is not possible, supplements must be taken strictly under medical supervision.
Ishi Khosla is a former senior nutritionist at Escorts. She heads the Centre of Dietary Counselling and also runs a health food store. She feels that for complete well-being, one should integrate physical, mental and spiritual health. According to her: "To be healthy should be the ultimate goal for all."
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