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Let there be sunlight

mumbai Updated: May 22, 2011 00:42 IST
Phorum Pandya
Phorum Pandya
Hindustan Times
Phorum Pandya

If you feel the summer sun is the cause of your weariness, you could be right – but for the wrong reason.

If you feel lethargic, have frequent body aches and often feel weary for no apparent reason, it could be because you are deficient in Vitamin D. While 20 nanogram/ml to 40 ng/ml is considered normal, any count below 11 ng/ml is considered a deficiency.

Most Mumbaiites do not get the 30 to 40 minutes of direct sunlight a day that is needed for the vitamin to form on the skin. While you can get most other vitamins from supplements, Vitamin D is present only in traces in food such as fish, milk, and vegetables.

“How many people get out in the afternoon?” asked Kaushal Malhan, a joint replacement surgeon at Fortis Hospital in Mulund, who is among city doctors who say they have seen a 20% to 50% rise in people exhibiting the deficiency over the past year. “The vitamin does not penetrate your clothes. Fifteen percent of your bare body should be exposed to direct sunlight.”

In January, a Hinduja hospital study found that more than three-fourths of 561 men and slightly less than three-fourths of 443 women who had come to the hospital for routine health checkups were deficient, with those between 40 and 60 years in a majority, said Dr Vipla Puri, consultant at the hospital’s radio-immunoassay department.

But the deficiency is prevalent among all age groups. From conducting two to three Vitamin D level tests per month last year, Criti Care diagnostic centre in Juhu conducts two to three per day, out of which 65% are for people younger than 35 years.

This is because children spend time most of their free time watching TV and playing on the computers and with their video games while adults move from home to car to work, with little exposure to direct sunlight, say doctors. Pollution, tall buildings and the use of sunscreen also impede creation of the Vitamin D.

Dr Anil Ballani, consulting physician at Hinduja and Lilavati hospitals, sees 30 patients a month suffering from this deficiency with symptoms of backache, join and muscle pain, lethargy, double the number he had a year ago.

In extreme cases, the deficiency causes osteoporosis, obesity, type 1 diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and chronic fatigue syndrome and neurogenerative disorders.

“People don’t even notice they are feeling tired,” said Dr Vikas Agashi, President of the Bombay Orthopaedic Society. “They continue to work, ignoring their pain. Then one day, they can’t do it anymore. This is not a new condition. The only difference is that in the past five years, more and more labs are conducting this test.”

Case studies

Shyista Mehra, 24, interior designer

Vitamin D level: 4 nanogram/ml
In February, Mehra (see photo below) went to her family doctor for a migraine check-up. Casually, she mentioned a persistent pain in her foot. She was recommended to get her Vitamin D levels checked. “It was 4,” said Mehra, eyes wide. The interior designer from Lokhandwala was then working from 9 am to 8.30 pm at an architectural firm. A vegetarian who does not like milk, she was getting little Vitamin D, triggering the deficiency.
“There was a time when the pain was so bad that, at the end of a movie, it would be a couple of minutes before I could stand. I felt like a grandmother,” said Mehra, who now works independently and does her errands at around 11.30 am so that she gets a regular dose of direct sunlight. “My knees no longer hurt all the time,” said Mehra, who plans to join a dance class.

Sumit Madan, 20, store owner
Vitamin D level: 11 nanogram/ml

Last November, Sumit Madan, 20, was diagnosed with arthritis. He could not believe that was the cause of his aching joints. When he sought a second opinion, he was advised to have his Vitamin D levels checked.
It turned out his level was 11, barely into the normal range of 9 to 45.
“I was spending about 14 hours a day indoors, in air-conditioned showrooms, a classic trigger for Vitamin D deficiency,” said Madan, who owns two garment stores at Elco Market, Bandra. “There was a time when my entire body ached almost all the time.”
A course of four injections helped him shed his lethargy and restlessness. On his doctor’s advice, he has also added exercise to his daily routine. He cycles, jogs or goes to the gym every morning before work. “I feel much better now,” he said.

Yasmin Idariya, 35, housewife
Vitamin D level: 9 nanogram/ml

Last September, Yasmin Idariya, 35, housewife a mother of three daughters, had severe pain in her lower back after she gave birth to her youngest daughter Afroz. “I had post-pregnancy weakness and when I went to a orthopaedic doctor, he asked me to get my levels tested, it was 9,” says Idariya, who lives in Jogeshwari. After a course of injections and two months of capsule supplement, Idariya’s health is improving.
“Now I make it a point to sit in my balcony when the sun is up as I don’t get to go out too often due to housework, getting my two daughter ready for school and taking care of my little one,” says Idariya, whose non-vegetarian diet does not include fish.