Vitamin D deficiency not uncommon in India

The role of Vitamin D in the growth of bones and formation of teeth is well known. Severe deficiency of this vitamin leads to brittle bones, a disease known as rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. However, there's more to the 'sunshine vitamin' than bone health.

In addition to its role in maintaining calcium and phosphorus balance, Vitamin D maintains maximum muscle strength, inhibits inflammatory activity and prevents many diseases related to the immune system, including Type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), rheumatoid arthritis and many common cancers. Low levels of Vitamin D have also been linked to hypertension, cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes mellitus, infectious diseases, tuberculosis, asthma, psoriasis and even depression.

Vitamin D deficiency is found even in countries like India, where sunlight is abundant. Though this vitamin is naturally present in very few foods, it is added to foods through fortification in developed countries. Due to this, deficiencies are uncommon. Rich food sources include fish, oils, ghee, butter and egg yolk. Compared to fish-liver oil, which is the best dietary source of Vitamin D, other foods are quite low in this vitamin. Ideally, a diet that includes dairy products, fish and egg yolk, coupled with adequate exposure to sunshine, should prevent Vitamin D deficiency.

When exposed to sunlight, a cholesterol derivative beneath the skin produces vitamin D3, which is the animal form of this vitamin. An exposure of half an hour a day, around mid day (11 am to 3 pm), is recommended for preventing deficiency.

In India, Vitamin D deficiency is more common in pregnant women, schoolchildren, young adults and elderly. Vitamin D deficiency can occur without any symptoms but when symptoms occur, it indicates severe deficiency. Vigilance of one's Vitamin D status by the yearly measurement of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, the storage form of this vitamin, which correlates best with deficiency symptoms, is suggested to be a part of an annual physical examination.

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