Vitamin D — commonly known as the sunshine vitamin, is an important nutrient. Fifteen minutes of exposure to sunshine, thrice a week, is adequate to produce the required amount in the body.
Despite living in sunny climates, many people are unable to produce sufficient vitamin D in the body. ‘Enclosed- in - air-conditioned cars - homes and office’ lifestyle has made it hard to get sufficient sunlight.
Why is vitamin D so important?
Just as we require a bit of salt for survival, we need the sun too in moderation, as sun exposure is our best source of Vitamin D. Today most people suffer from a serious shortfall of this vitamin.
Studies prove that vitamin D helps combat depression by stimulating the production of the mood elevating hormones. A shortage of vitamin D interferes with the production of leptin so you keep eating and overeating not knowing when to stop as adequate leptin is not produced.
A Vitamin D deficiency is also known to increase insulin resistance thereby leading to development of Type 2 diabetes. Low levels of Vitamin D also leads to morning fatigue.
The symptoms of vitamin D deficiency in children include muscle cramps, low calcium levels in blood; difficulties in breathing and fragile bones, which are prone to fractures. Slow growth and development in children indicate deficiency of this vitamin in children.
Reasons of Vitamin D deficiency :
* Our body makes vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sun light. Those who are confined to their home, wear long clothing, or work indoors for long hours have increased risk of deficiency due to limited exposure to sun.
With age our kidneys convert less of the vitamin D to its active form, thus increasing risk of Vitamin D deficiency. Specific medical conditions like Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis and celiac disease influence the ability of the intestine to absorb vitamin D from the food eaten.
Obese people with a BMI of 30 or above have low levels of vitamin D in their blood. The fat cells draw out vitamin D from the blood thus altering its release in circulation. Vitamin D deficiency, if not checked, leads to fractures, bone deformities, rickets and osteoporosis.
Vitamin D deficiency can be treated. Here are few suggestions:
* Include foods rich in vitamin D like eggs, fortified milk, dairy products like buttermilk and butter, liver and fish oils, wild salmon and mushrooms in the diet.
* Increase sun exposure: Unprotected sun exposure between 10 am to 3 pm for 15 minutes thrice a week is sufficient to provide the required amount of the vitamin.
* Take oral vitamin D supplements if required: Supplement your diet with Vitamin D3 (biologically active form of vitamin D) under your physician’s guidance.
Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre.