Apart from maintaining healthy bones, vitamin D has a much more crucial role to play in keeping one healthy

In a State which enjoys abundant sunshine for the best part of the year, it is indeed strange that a significant chunk of the population is deficient in vitamin D.

But vitamin D deficiency seems to be a public health issue of global dimensions, spanning ethnicities, age groups and gender, with even developed nations such as the United Kingdom reporting increased incidence of conditions like rickets (bone weakening).

Research suggests that apart from maintaining healthy bones, this sunshine vitamin has a much more crucial role to play in keeping one healthy. Laboratory studies show that vitamin D reduces cancer cell growth and controls infections.

Many studies have pointed to its role in lowering the risk of heart failure and sudden cardiac death. Recent evidence also links low vitamin D levels to the risk of developing Type-I diabetes, tuberculosis, and multiple sclerosis.

The primary source of vitamin D is the sun. Food sources of vitamin D are few, like dairy products or oily fish.

The sun’s ultraviolet B rays may tan the skin but its action on the skin is what helps the body produce vitamin D, from cholesterol. Not getting out in the sun at all or covering up with sunscreen or scarves puts one at severe risk of poor bone health as the body cannot absorb calcium if vitamin D levels are inadequate.

At SAT Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram, a significant increase in the incidence of rickets, bowed legs, and growth retardation has been seen in recent years in infants as young as three months old.

Most babies require vitamin D supplementation soon after birth because the mothers had also been deficient in vitamin D, says K.E. Elizabeth, paediatrician and Superintendent.

Senior physician Mathew Thomas says that vitamin D deficiency is the first diagnosis whenever patients come complaining of vague aches, pains, and fatigue.

A blood test, 25 (OH) D, will reveal the level of vitamin D deficiency in a person.

“The normal range of 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels should be 25-75 ng/mL. But almost all of whom we test fall in the severe deficiency range of less than 10 ng/mL, pointing to a high risk of osteomalacia, when high daily doses of vitamin D are recommended. Natural supplementation through food and sun exposure is the best,” he says.

A daily dose of 600-800 IU of vitamin D is recommended across sexes and age categories, while older persons might need a higher daily dose to prevent falls and fractures.