Our body requires a number of different nutrients to function normally. Vitamin D is one such nutrient that has a variety of different functions in the body. Women (and men) in India are surprisingly low in Vitamin D levels. This can have detrimental effects on the body, and can affect your health in the long term.
Let’s take a brief look at why Vitamin D is essential, and how low levels can affect you.
What is Vitamin D?
Our body requires vitamins and minerals that ensure normal functioning of all the cells in the body. Vitamin D is what is called a ‘fat soluble’ vitamin, and forms an essential component of our bones. It plays an important role in the regulation of calcium and phosphate levels in the blood, and these are primary components of bones and teeth.
Once vitamin D is created in the body, it is converting into an active hormone in order to exert its benefits.
How can I get Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is primarily obtained from sunlight. Our skin absorbs the sunlight, and a series of different chemical reactions occur which ultimately results in the production of vitamin D. While a detailed discussion regarding how this occurs is out of the scope of this article, we thought we would include a diagram that illustrates this for those who love science!
Besides sunlight, vitamin D is also available in a number of different food sources including fortified foods (cereals, margarine), eggs and oily fish such as sardines, mackerel and salmon. Cod liver oil supplements also contain vitamin D in them, but tend to have higher amounts of vitamin A in them (taking too much cod liver oil can be harmful). Vegetarian sources are rare, and people who are vegetarian rely on sunlight for natural synthesis of vitamin D.
How does vitamin D help me?
Vitamin D is essential not just to maintain the structure and function of bones and teeth, but is also required for a number of different processes that occur in the body. These are listed in the table below.
- Maintain the strength and structure of bones and teeth
- Maintain adequate muscle function
- Build the immune system to fight infections
- Development of the brain
- Keep the lungs and airways healthy
- Promote normal heart function and healthy circulation
- Prevent certain forms of cancer
These are just some of the positive effects associated with Vitamin D. Research is being conducted into its other useful effects, and there is no doubt the results will be exciting!
How much vitamin D do I need?
Well, you will get all that you need if you are exposed to sufficient amount of sunlight. However, in patients who get insufficient amount of vitamin D everyday may require supplementation. This can be either achieved through the foods mentioned previously, but this may not necessarily be feasible for vegetarians.
There are no clear recommendations as to how much additional vitamin D South Asian individuals require. You may be surprised to hear that South Asian women seem to have particularly low levels of vitamin D in their bodies. One of the likely reason is the lack of exposure to sunlight, which is because women tend to wear clothing that covers their entire body. Hardly any skin is exposed to the sun, and the quantity that is exposed is not sufficient enough to provide the required vitamin D.
In cases where the body is not producing sufficient vitamin D, additional supplementation can be obtained by consuming foods that are rich in vitamin D. Alternatively, your doctor can prescribe a course of treatment for you that will help increase the levels.
What happens if I have low levels of vitamin D?
Individuals who are low in vitamin D tend to suffer from generalised tiredness, body ache and weakness. Some may find that their bones and joints are painful.
However, a lot of patients who are low in vitamin D levels may not have any symptoms. The effect of low vitamin D levels build up over time, and patients can develop a condition called osteomalacia, which is characterised by softening of the bones. Pregnant women who have low levels of vitamin D are at risk of developing gestational diabetes and small babies. Immunity levels may reduce and patients can become more prone to developing viral infections.
Is there any harm from taking supplements?
The chances of developing toxicity from vitamin D supplements is rare. It takes several months for any form of toxicity to occur, and often supplements are only offered to those patients whose blood tests have confirmed low levels of vitamin D. Supplementation duration is often just 6 weeks, so chances of developing any side effects is low.
In rare cases, high levels of vitamin D levels in the blood can result in the calcium levels in the blood increasing. This is called hypercalcemia and may require treatment.
Where can I get my vitamin D levels tested?
Our laboratory at Baliga Diagnostics Pvt. Ltd. offers bone screening and vitamin D level testing. Give us a call today to arrange a test at your convenience.