There is a silent epidemic in India that no one is really addressing. This epidemic currently affects 79% of our population, and yet, is largely ignored. A deficiency of the ‘Sunshine Vitamin’ – vitamin D – in a tropical country like India sounds oxymoronic. One of the most common misconceptions about vitamin D is that our skin synthesizes this vitamin merely by being outdoors.
Vitamin D is synthesized by human skin, when skin is exposed to early morning sunlight for at least 30 minutes. Indians in particular are at the risk of vitamin D deficiency because of two reasons – skin tone and style of clothing. Vitamin D levels in darker skin are found to be lower, because melanin hinders the synthesis of vitamin D. The conservative style of clothing in India also results in low levels of vitamin D in the population, as less skin is exposed to the sunlight.
Modern lives are making it harder for our bodies to produce the levels of vitamin D that it needs to function normally. Most of us spend the majority of the daylight hours indoors, under artificial light. Sunscreen, which many of us use in the summer to protect our skin, can also bring down the levels of vitamin D synthesis.
Why should we be concerned about vitamin D deficiency, though? Vitamin D is popularly known for its role in bone health and dental health, but it is also essential for proper cardiac, muscle and immune function. Vitamin D levels also directly affect the absorption of calcium by our bones. Vitamin D deficiency can cause low levels of calcium absorption by our skeleton which, in turn, affects overall bone density. This resulting low bone density can lead to bone weakness and higher incidence of fractures. Severe vitamin D deficiency can also lead to Osteomalacia (also known as Rickets) which can cause increased fractures and stunted growth in children. Individuals who are overweight or obese are also a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D is found in food sources only in trace amounts, which is why it is essential to ensure that your body gets the recommended levels of the vitamin through additional supplementation. Though there are cereals available that are fortified with vitamin D, they cannot meet the recommended intake.
Commercial vitamin D supplements are available in two forms – vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol) and vitamin D2 (Ergocalciferol). Vitamin D3 should be preferred over vitamin D2, as Cholecalciferol is up to 87% more potent than Ergocalciferol, and is absorbed more efficiently by the body. A plant-based vitamin D3 supplement should be preferred over a supplement derived from a non-organic source, as the former offers vitamin D3 that is more bio-available. There are now organic vitamin D3 supplements available in the Indian market, which are sourced from Lichens, the only naturally occurring plant source of the vitamin. These organic supplements offer 1000 I.U. of the vitamin per serving, which is more than adequate to meet the recommended daily intake.
Aside from supplementation, a healthy diet and regular exercise also help maintain adequate levels of vitamin D3 and calcium in the body. An exercise routine that incorporates some weight training helps add strength to the bones and maintains bone density. In turn, optimal bone health ensures that the body is absorbing vitamin D3, Calcium, and the other minerals that it needs.
The risks associated with vitamin D3 deficiency are only exacerbated by age-related factors. Being diligent about your intake of this vitamin today will give you wide-reaching health benefits when you get older.
A 1000 I.U. serving a day of vitamin D3 will keep your dental, immune, cardiac, skeletal and muscular health in ship shape for years to come. When it comes to vitamin D, a stitch in time can add years to your life.