Recent studies show 71% of school-going children suffer from Vitamin D deficiency. Related studies also highlight the risk of infants to this deficiency. Vitamin D deficient mothers pass on the deficiency to their children – this is a cause of concern, especially since these deficiencies impact their growth and performance.
Unaddressed Vitamin D deficiency leads to poor concentration and a decreased capacity for exercise, which impacts academics and physical activity, implying vitamin-deficient children lag behind in the classroom as well as the playground.
What is Vitamin D and why is it important?
Vitamin D, also known as the ‘Sunshine Vitamin’ as it is naturally sourced from the sun, is primarily divided into Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol), present in foods, and Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), produced by cells when exposed to sunlight.
Vitamin D is essential for improving childrens’ cognitive function, strengthening their immunity and improving bone health.
How do you know if you are Vitamin D deficient?
According to studies, Vitamin D deficiency is defined as a serum 25 – hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] level of less than 20 ng/ml.
A simple blood test can determine vitamin D levels, usually by testing 25(OH) D levels in the blood.
Who is at risk of Vitamin D deficiency?
Children staying indoors do not get adequate levels of exposure to sunlight, thus becoming susceptible to diseases such as rickets. Other conditions that can affect deficient individuals include heart disease, diabetes, sclerosis, colon cancer and breast cancer.
The rate of Vitamin D absorption is influenced by the melanin levels in your skin, or rather the complexion of your skin. To put it simply, as the skin’s melanin levels rise, the Vitamin D absorption rate slows down. Thus, a dark person would have to spend more time in the sun as compared to a pale person.
Vitamin D & Genetics
Along with lifestyle and nutrition, one’s genetic structure also impacts Vitamin D levels. Common gene variants associated with Vitamin D deficiency are variants pertaining to cholesterol, Vitamin D metabolism and transport of Vitamin D through one’s body. According to research, the greater the amount of variants present, the greater the risk of Vitamin D deficiency.
Genetic testing to identify such variants can help in the early detection, as well as prevention, of the deficiency through dietary and lifestyle changes.
Vitamin D & Diet
Vitamin D is passively absorbed from our gut in the form of Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3. This is a superior mode of supplying the body with Vitamin D, as it isn’t affected by ageing or obesity.
Some people prefer to consume Vitamin D as supplements since it is hard to consume enough food to meet the daily requirements for its recommended intake.
Vitamin D Levels & Obesity
Obesity leads to decreased Vitamin D circulation and absorption. Body fat isolates and clings to Vitamin D, stopping it from reaching the bloodstream and leading to lower levels of circulation. Thus, the obese need to consume a higher level of vitamin D to maintain adequate levels of the same. Vitamin D deficiency is very common in obese people – 90% of obese individuals suffer from it.
Vitamin D deficiency – signs and symptoms
The signs of severe Vitamin D deficiency in children include rickets, decreased motor development, poor muscle strength, aches and discomfort, and fractures.
Vitamin D deficiency – treatment
The simplest way to boost Vitamin D is to expose your body to direct sunshine. In India, around 15 to 40 minutes of sunlight exposure, 2-3 times a week, between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. can help increase Vitamin-D synthesis.
Is this the only solution?
Professional athletes spend a large chunk of their day on the field training, practicing, or playing matches. Ideally, they should not be Vitamin D deficient, but they are. Why?
How much Vitamin D do you need?
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recommends that Indians take a daily Vitamin D supplement of 400 IU/day.
Should you take supplements?
Before establishing if you need a Vitamin D supplement, you must get a blood test to check your Vitamin D levels. This will help you identify the amount of supplementation you need. Please only take Vitamin D supplements at the recommendation of your nutritionist.
PS: Customised strategy
Each individual has varied nutritional needs and consumption habits. The same food can offer different nutritional values based on its production and sourcing methods. For example, eggs can have different nutritional values depending on whether they are cage-free, pasture-raised or free-range. Sometimes, taking a supplement dose alone can cover all your nutrition requirements. For instance, many multivitamins now contain 800 to 1000 IU, when the body only needs 400 IU a day. Some vitamins (like Vitamin D) are fat-soluble and can accumulate in the body; they might not be as conveniently eliminated as water-soluble vitamins, which can lead to other health concerns. Get yourself tested regularly and work with your nutritionist to know your required Vitamin D dosage.
- Determinants of Vitamin D Status in Indian School-children.
- Prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency in a Pediatric Hospital of Eastern India – PMC
- Vitamin D Insufficiency in Overweight and Obese Children and Adolescents – PMC
- Vitamin D status and sun exposure in India – PMC
- Low Vitamin D Status despite Abundant Sun Exposure | The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism | Oxford Academic
- Genetic regulation of vitamin D levels
The views expressed are that of the expert alone.
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