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Nutritional Health|06 April 2022

How to improve Vitamin D levels

Clinical cum pediatric nutritionist and diabetic educator at Qua Nutrition with over 12 years of experience, BSc in Nutrition, Food Service Management & Dietetics, MSc in Health Sciences, and a Diploma in Vegan & Vegetarian Nutrition

Even though India is a tropical nation with plenty of sunshine, Vitamin D deficiency is not uncommon in the Indian subcontinent. As per a 2020 research featured in the International Journal of Research in Orthopedics, Vitamin D deficiency affects 76% of Indians.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D, popularly known as the “sunshine vitamin,” is a fat-soluble vitamin, essential for proper growth & development, strengthening the immune system, providing more robust bone health, and boosting mental health. There are two types of Vitamin D – Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) present in food, and Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) – produced by the body when exposed to sunlight. While both are essential for our health, if we acquire D2 through diet, even a tiny amount of sun exposure can produce D3.

Vitamin D test

A simple blood test can determine Vitamin D levels, usually by testing 25(OH)D levels in the blood. Since it is the primary element of Vitamin D circulation, testing this is the most accurate approach to determining Vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D deficiency and range

According to studies, Vitamin D deficiency is defined as a serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] level less than 20 ng/ml. Vitamin D deficiency raises the likelihood of developing osteomalacia or nutritional rickets.

Vitamin D levels in the normal range are measured in nanograms per millilitre (ng/mL).

  • Deficiency – <20
  • Insufficiency – 20-29
  • Sufficiency – 30-100
  • Toxicity – >100

Why are most Indians poor in Vitamin D?

Skin tone:

Indian skin has a greater level of melanin, which limits the body’s Vitamin D absorption capability. To put it simply, those with dark skin may need 10-20 times more exposure to sunshine to produce the same quantity of Vitamin D as those with pale skin.

Low sunlight exposure:

Working in AC cubicles/homes and spending considerable time indoors depletes Vitamin D levels. People spending a lot of time indoors or covering their bodies when they’re outside are the most susceptible to this deficiency.

Obesity:

According to a study, 40.3% of Indians are obese. Obesity causes the body fat to cling to the existing Vitamin D, preventing it from reaching the bloodstream. As a result, it can lead to Vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D deficiency & health

Vitamin D deficiency affects bones, causing them to become brittle, mushy, and deformed. It is also important for the brain and immune system. Diabetes, coronary heart disease, hypertension, and other cardiovascular illnesses are linked to Vitamin D deficiency. Low Vitamin D increases the risk of osteomalacia or nutritional rickets.

Vitamin D deficiency – genetics & holistic approach

Sun exposure, dietary changes, supplementation (if required), and weight management are all part of a holistic approach to overcome Vitamin D deficiency. In cases of low exposure to sunlight, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recommends Indians take a daily Vitamin D supplement of 400 IU/day.

15 – 40 minutes of continuous sunlight exposure, 2 – 3 times a week,  between 11 am and 2 pm, helps maintain appropriate Vitamin D levels throughout the year. However, Vitamin D deficiency has been documented in some people who appear to get plenty of sunshine, as they are genetically predisposed to the deficiency. Hence, Vitamin D also requires proper diet, nutrition and supplementation.

We will now see how Vitamin D levels can be improved with the help of certain foods and supplements.

Seafood & Fatty Fish

Seafood and fatty fish are rich sources of Vitamin D and are available naturally. Canned salmon can contain up to 386 IU of Vitamin D in a 100gm serving, which is close to half of the recommended daily intake. 

Egg Yolk

Egg Yolks are Vitamin D rich foods that can easily be included in diets. Like many other natural food sources, egg yolks contain varying amounts of Vitamin D. Vitamin D levels are 2-4% of RDI in eggs of conventionally bred hens with little exposure to the environment. On the other hand, eggs from free-range hens can provide up to four times as much, or up to 20%, of the RDI.

Mushroom

Mushrooms are a vegetarian source of Vitamin D. Similar to humans, mushrooms can produce their own Vitamin D when exposed to UV light. Vitamin D has two types: D3 or cholecalciferol and D2 or ergocalciferol (produced by mushrooms). Although both types can increase Vitamin D levels, research reveals that D3 is more substantial and effective than D2. 100 grams of wild mushroom can supply up to 2,345 IU which is more than 300% of the recommended daily intake. Wild mushrooms have higher Vitamin D content than traditionally farmed mushrooms.

Fortified Food

Vitamin D fortification is commonly used to add Vitamin D to your daily diet, as very few foods naturally provide substantial quantities of this vitamin. The amount of added Vitamin D differs from product to product. Vitamin D fortified almond milk, soy milk, tofu etc. can be found easily at any grocery store.

Supplements

The two forms of Vitamin D are Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3. D2 is obtained from plants, while D3 is obtained from animals. Studies claim D3 to be more effective than D2 in increasing Vitamin D levels. 

Never self prescribe or take over-the-counter supplements. They can have detrimental effects on your health. Only take supplements under the guidance of qualified nutritionists.

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


The views expressed are that of the expert alone.