Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for all of us… but who is at risk of Vitamin D deficiency?
It’s now no secret, as many as 90% of people living in our modern world are critically low in vitamin D and are suffering from many unexplainable aches, pains and illnesses because of it. Luckily this is an ailment we can address ourselves, improving our health and quality of life by simply taking a safe and inexpensive daily dose of vitamin D3.
Why is Vitamin D important?
Vitamin D plays an important role in maintaining good bone health
A significant proportion of the population worldwide has low Vitamin D levels. Children are one of the groups especially at risk of deficiency.
Low Vitamin D levels are a particular issue for all pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants and children under 5 years of age, all people aged 65 years and over, black and other darker-skinned minority ethnic or mixed-race groups, and those with limited exposure to sunlight. Pregnant women need to ensure that not only their own requirement for Vitamin D is met, but that they also build up adequate stores in the developing fetus for early infancy. It is essential that those most at risk are aware of the implications of Vitamin D deficiency and, more importantly, what can be done to prevent it.
How do we get Vitamin D?
The main source of Vitamin D (90%) is made in the skin with the help of sunlight (UVB rays). Unlike other vitamins, only a small amount (10%) comes from the food we eat, even if we have a healthy diet. UVB sunlight is available approximately between 10 am – 3pm
10–15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure is safe for all; however, the exposure needs to be consistent. Groups at risk of Vitamin D deficiency, particularly people with darker skin and older people, may require far longer exposure than this. One thing to remember is that once sunscreen is correctly applied, Vitamin D synthesis is blocked. Remember – staying in the sun for prolonged periods without the protection of sunscreen increases the risk of skin cancer. The aim during the summer months is to achieve enough exposure to sunlight for Vitamin D synthesis, whilst minimizing the risk of skin cancer. Care should always be taken to cover up or apply sunscreen well before any exposed skin becomes red or begins to burn. Sunbeds are not a recommended source of Vitamin D.
From dietary sources
Certain foods can contribute to Vitamin D levels. However, there are relatively few foods that contain significant amounts of Vitamin D, making it almost impossible to meet Vitamin D needs from diet alone. Average daily intakes of Vitamin D from diet range from 2–4 µg/day, compared with a recommended intake for adults in at-risk groups of 10 µg/day. Vitamin D is found naturally in small amounts in oily fish (such as salmon, trout, mackerel, herring and sardines), eggs and meat.
Vitamin D is also voluntarily added to some breakfast cereals, soya and dairy products, powdered milks and low-fat spreads. However, amounts in these products vary and are often quite small. Breastfed babies up to the age of 6 months get their Vitamin D from their mother’s breast milk, which is one reason why it is so important for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to maintain adequate vitamin D levels of their own. Infant formula milk is fortified with Vitamin D, so formula-fed infants acquire their Vitamin D in this way.
What causes Vitamin D deficiency?
A low level of Vitamin D in the body is caused mainly by the lack of adequate exposure to sunlight. Adults and children with dark skin and those who cover up their body fully with clothing are more prone to Vitamin D deficiency.
Who is at risk of Vitamin D deficiency?
- All pregnant and breastfeeding women, especially teenagers and young women.
- Children under 5 years of age.
- All people aged 65 years and over.
- People who are not exposed to much sunlight, for example those who cover their skin for cultural reasons, are housebound or who stay indoors for long periods.
- People who have darker skin, such as people of African, African–Caribbean and South Asian origin, are also at risk of Vitamin D deficiency because it takes their skin a longer time to produce as much vitamin D as it does for someone with lighter skin
- Patients who have been previously diagnosed with skin cancer are particularly at risk of developing Vitamin D deficiency because they are advised to avoid sunlight and wear sunscreen
- Sunscreens greater than factor 8 will prevent the skin making Vitamin D.
If you are in one of these at-risk groups, you can make a positive difference to your health by taking a daily Vitamin D supplement.
It is recommended that:
- Children aged between 6 months and 5 years take between 7 and 8.5 micrograms (µg) of Vitamin D a day
- Adults should take 10 micrograms (µg) of Vitamin D a day
What happens if you don’t have enough Vitamin D?
Vitamin D deficiency is very common. Most people have no symptoms, or only vague ones such as tiredness or aches. Severe Vitamin D deficiency can cause soft bones, known as rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Symptoms include bone pains (often in the legs), weak muscles and bowing of the leg bones in children. Very rarely in severe Vitamin D deficiency when calcium is also very low, symptoms of muscle spasms (cramps) and seizures can happen. Long term Vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of developing weak bones (osteoporosis).
How is vitamin D deficiency diagnosed?
If there are symptoms of deficiency and risk factors for deficiency, a blood test will be done to check the Vitamin D level. Vitamin D deficiency is diagnosed if the level is low.
What is the treatment for Vitamin D deficiency?
The treatment is to take Vitamin D supplements. They are available as tablets, capsules, liquid, or injection. Depending on your Vitamin D level, your Family doctor will prescribe you the appropriate dosage.
After a treatment course with Vitamin D supplements, it is very important to maintain an adequate Vitamin D level in the blood by taking the lower dose of Vitamin D supplement advised by your Family doctor.
If you want any more information on Vitamin D or have any risk factors, please do not hesitate to contact us at INTERCARE HEALTH CENTER.
Dr Rahat Ghazanafar