Vitamin D deficiency a worry in India

The skin produces Vitamin D in response to ultra-violet radiation from sunlight. According to recent estimates, more than a billion people worldwide are vitamin D deficient. Indians are particularly prone to vitamin D deficiency. It has now been recognised as an epidemic even in countries abundant in sunlight, such as India.

Research has shown that Indian skin pigmentation needs more exposure to sunlight, as compared to fair-skinned people in the West, in order to generate the same amount of Vitamin D. In general, the greater the skin pigmentation, higher the concentration of melanin and lesser the amount of vitamin D produced. Other reasons could be inadequate exposure to sunlight, particularly for those who remain indoors during the day, such as the elderly.

Vitamin D's association with bone, tooth and skeletal development is well-known. Apart from these, its role in several other conditions has now been identified. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to impaired calcium absorption, osteoporosis, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes mellitus, infectious diseases, tuberculosis, asthma, psoriasis, schizophrenia and depression. Others include auto-immune conditions like type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), rheumatoid arthritis, many common cancers including prostate, breast, ovarian, or colon cancer, birth defects, obesity, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and neuro-degenerative diseases including Alzheimer's.

Interestingly, infants who receive vitamin D supplementation (2,000 units daily) show 80 per cent reduced risk of developing type I diabetes over the next 20 years. Severe deficiency of this vitamin leads to brittle bones, commonly known as rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Individuals with kidney or liver damage are at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency as their body's ability to circulate active vitamin D is impaired.

Vitamin D is naturally present in very few foods, which include fish liver oils, ghee, butter and egg yolk. Fish liver oil is the best dietary source of vitamin D. Other foods are not as rich in this vitamin.

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