More than 70% people in Bengal suffer from some form of Vitamin-D deficiency. Minors in the state seem to be more vulnerable to this deficiency with 82% of those below 15 years of aged suspected to be affected by it. Leave alone the general populace, 92% doctors in India too suffer from vitamin D deficiency syndromes.
These facts have come up in a research by a team of doctors from the state-run SSKM hospital. Alarmed by the upward trend in vitamin D deficiency cases, doctors are trying to find out the causes leading to it and ways to control the same before they turn into a larger problem for the masses.
“Vitamin-D deficiency is caused mostly because of lifestyle and dietary reasons. Previously, Vitamin-D deficiency affected mostly slum dwellers, as they do not have a good diet. But we were surprised to find that people from affluent sections of society have increasingly started suffering from the syndrome because of their tendency to stay indoors in air-conditioned rooms and move around in air-conditioned vehicles,” said Deep Dutta, one of the SSKM doctors who is part of the research team.
Doctors say that people who wear long robes and keep their head and body fully covered at all times of the day are more prone to vitamin D deficiency. The dark skinned are also vulnerable to this deficiency because of low pigmentation in it, doctors say.
“The skin should be exposed to sunlight for a minimum of 10 minutes daily, ideally between 10 am and 3 pm, when sunrays are the strongest. We should avoid applying sunscreen lotions as it reduces the skin’s capacity to produce Vitamin-D. The traditional practice of applying mustard oil on the skin ensures that proper amount of Vitamin-D is produced by the skin, leading to strengthened bones,” said Dutta.
Doctors recommend a calcium-rich diet, including milk, fish and egg, to reduce chances of vitamin D deficiency.
“It has been seen that vitamin D deficiency syndromes are stronger in communities that do not consume non-vegetarian food items as part of their diet,” said Nilanjan Sengupta, associate professor of endocrinology at NRS Medical College and Hospital.
Vitamin-D deficiency can lead to rickets, osteomalacia and osteoporosis. These are conditions in which bone tissues do not properly mineralise leading to soft and fragile bones. There is thus a high risk of fracture among these people at the slightest pressure on the bones and they also suffer from body pain and skeletal deformities. Ache in muscles is also a result of vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with diabetes, hypertension, depression, obesity, heart diseases and cancer.
“We suspect that Vitamin-D deficiency might lead to colon and breast cancer. But we do not have any definitive data to substantiate this. We are working on it,” said Dutta.
Doctors say that Vitamin-D deficiency also occurs when the kidneys are unable to convert Vitamin-D to its active form or the digestive tract is unable to adequately absorb the vitamin.
“Vitamin-D molecules are activated in the kidney, which is not possible if the kidney fails. In such situations, we prescribe active Vitamin-D capsules to rejuvenate the kidney,” Dutta said.
Doctors said that Vitamin-D deficiency also depends on environmental factors like cloud cover and air pollution and can happen because of hereditary disorders, too. It can cause asthma among children.
“Pregnant mothers with Vitamin-D deficiency can have premature deliveries or can give birth to underweight baby. Children born to such women should be fed with packaged milk to supplement calcium from mother’s milk,” said , Dasarathi Sarkarformer professor of endocrinology in SSKM hospital.
Doctors say Vitamin-D deficiency could be identified in minors soon after they start walking.
“Vitamin-D deficiency can result in impaired growth and short height. Skeletal deformities in their forearms, ribcage, breastbone and spinal cord are common. Positioning or bracing can completely reverse the syndrome. Some skeletal deformities may require corrective surgery,” said Sarkar.
Surgical costs for skeletal deformities can cost anywhere above Rs. 50,000 upwards depending on the type of deformity one suffers.