Vitamins are part and parcel of our daily nutrient requirement. Though they are needed in small quantities, if they aren’t supplied through the daily diet in required amounts, vitamin deficiencies can affect the body’s processes drastically. One such important vitamin is Vitamin D.
Prof. Arjuna De Silva, Professor in Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Ragama, speaks to the Health Capsule this week on vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D is a moderately common problem in the country. It is synthesized in two ways. “Vitamin D is produced by the body when exposed to sunlight. The kidney also activates vitamin D within the body. Vitamin D helps absorb calcium in the body and strengthens bones and muscles of the body. Vitamin D deficiency is now becoming an issue with more people facing this nutrient deficit. This is a vitamin that is synthesized on exposure to sunlight by the body,” stated Prof. De Silva.
Fairer vs. healthier?
Nowadays people are more concerned about their complexions and about getting darker under the sun. “The use of sun block has increased causing the vitamin D levels synthesized within the body to drop. Sun block does just that as its name implies by covering up the skin and preventing the formation of vitamin D. Sri Lankans need not fear skin cancers due to sun exposure. This is not common and something that does not occur generally in Sri Lanka,” he continued.
Being cautious about harmful UV rays is important, but it is equally important to understand that people require a daily dose of sunlight exposure too in order for vitamin D synthesis to occur. It is prevalent within Sri Lankan genetics to produce melanin on exposure to the sun. They do not have to worry about skin cancers. “The reason why skin cancers are quite common among Australians is because of the fact that this continent is located in some place on the globe that it was never supposed to be in the first place. So Australians are unadapted and do not have much melanin pigment in their bodies and are unable to produce it within their bodies on exposure to the sun,” explained the professor.
Ranges of deficiency
The state of the deficiency can go from from mild to severe extremes . “The kind of vitamin D deficiency that Sri Lanka experiences commonly is milder. Extreme cases of low vitamin D levels cause conditions such as osteomalacia in adults as well as rickets in children. However these maladies can only be seen in extreme cases of vitamin D deficiency which is not observed prominently in the island,” explicated Prof. De Silva.
Vitamin D deficiency is caused by a combination of factors such as lack of exposure to sunlight and low levels of the vitamin in the diet.
Vitamin D enhances calcium absorption as previously stated, opting for stronger muscular and skeletal systems. Therefore symptoms such as aches, pains and weakness are the common tell-tale signs that warn a patient of this vitamin deficiency. According to Prof. De Silva, the deficiency is treated through the prescription of vitamin supplements. This deficiency is diagnosed by is simple a blood test.
The prevention of this deficiency includes consuming a more adequate diet. Foods rich in vitamin D include carrots, peas, meat, fish oil- which are normally low in Sri Lankan diets- because these diets are mainly carbohydrate based. “The normal diet of a person should contain half a plate of green leafy vegetables, a quarters of protein rich food, a quarter of rice or some variety of a carbohydrate rich source. However the Sri Lankan system sees that three quarter of the plate is filled with rice and this food is accompanied by dhal, a classic favourite. Dhal is sometimes mistaken to be a vegetable by many,” he added.