All of us have been admonished at some point in our lives for not drinking enough milk. “How else will you have strong bones?” is the usual question. However, recent research has shown that the clue to healthier bones may lie not in milk, but in a crucial — and easily available — vitamin that most of us seem to not get nearly enough of.
Vitamin D is the magic nutrient that enhances the absorption of calcium and contributes to healthy bones. Early morning sunlight is the richest source of vitamin D. Although even a few moments of exposure to the morning sun is enough to get you your share of this vitamin, a majority of Indians are deficient in it. Consequently, we are also at high risk of bone disorders such as osteomalacia (among adults) and rickets (in children).
“Vitamin D is essential for good digestion, strong bones and teeth, and also for good vision,” says Madhuri Ruia, nutritionist and proprietor of Integym in Colaba. Recent research has suggested that vitamin D may also protect you from colon, breast and prostate cancers. “It is different from all other nutrients because there is no obvious food source of it,” says Ruia. “The body synthesises it from sunlight.” So while you can make up for deficiencies in other vitamins by popping a multivitamin pill, there is no other way to absorb vitamin D than by exposing yourself to sunlight for 10 to 15 minutes, a few times a week.
Diet isn’t everything
The importance of this was demonstrated in a recent study conducted at the Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai among a group of sixty girls between the ages of 25 to 30. The study showed that 80 per cent had inadequate amounts of Vitamin D and low bone density, although their diets were high in calcium. “It goes to show that calcium intake can’t compensate for the lack of Vitamin D,” says Dr Rohini Samant, rheumatologist with Hinduja Hospital.
The lack of vitamin D can manifest itself as serious symptoms that can affect your day-to-day functioning. The severest of these is osteomalacia or the softening and curving of the leg bones. But the most common symptoms are difficult to isolate and are often confused with other conditions.
“You may have joint pain, lower energy levels and lowered immunity, white patches on the skin or kidney stones,” says Ruia. But the good news is that regular exposure to the sun can reverse this serious condition. So why not make the most of sunny days?
(With inputs from Aalap Deboor)