Did you get your Vitamin D today?

According to recent newspaper reports, almost 40-80% Indians do not get enough vitamin D. This is surprising – since vitamin D, also known as the ‘Sunshine vitamin,’ can easily be got through exposure to sunshine. What’s more, it’s free! Interested?? You better be, that is, if you don’t want to join the list of Indians who have vitamin D deficiency.

Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D. Pic: Mahesh Telkar

What is Vitamin D and why do we need it?

It’s a fat soluble vitamin which is needed by the body for absorbing calcium and phosphorus, both of which are important for building and maintaining strong bones. Besides, it is also needed for several other functions like brain development, muscle function, cardiac function and many others. Not getting enough vitamin D can result in soft bones (rickets) in kids and fragile bones in adults. Recent studies have also shown the possible link between low levels of vitamin D with depression, cardiac diseases, high blood pressure, developing diabetes and certain forms of cancer.

How much and where to get Vitamin D?

Vitamin D can be got primarily from sunlight. It can also be found in very small amounts in foods like green leafy vegetables, cheese, egg yolks, some oily fish and in mushrooms exposed to UV light. In the West, where abundant sunshine throughout the year is rare, foods like milk, orange juice and cereal are fortified with vitamin D.

Nicknamed the ‘D-Lightful vitamin’ by Dr Holick, an expert in the field of Vitamin D research, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin D is as follows:

  • 0-1 year old : 400 to 1000 IU per day
  • 1-18 yrs. Old : 600 to 1000 IU per day
  • 18 years and above :1500 to 2000 IU per day
  • Pregnant women : 2000 IU per day
  • Obese person: requires 2 to 3 times more vitamin D as compared to a normal individual.

When and how to get it?

The best way to get your daily dose is to soak up in the sunlight. Expose your skin to sunlight between 8am – 11am and 3pm – 5pm for at least 10 -15 minutes every day. Indians, that toom South Indians, need more vitamin D due to the melanin pigments present in the skins. Sunscreens tend to reduce the absorption of vitamin D, so apply it only when the sun rays are too harsh (11am -3pm).

Suryanamaskar and Vitamin D

There is a reason why Indians worship the sun. Our ancestors probably knew that just like plants need sunlight for photosynthesis, humans too require adequate sunlight for leading a healthy life. In Vedic astrology, the sun is referred to as ‘atmakaraka’ or ‘indicator of the soul.’ The sun has always been revered and worshipped as the prime source of energy in the world. Hindus would start their day by doing the ‘Suryanamaskar’. It is the ancient Indian yoga asana which has proved to have a lot of health benefits like revitalizing the body, improving the digestive system, improving the posture and even helping shed those extra kilos among others. Comprising of 12 yoga poses, it is believed to be a complete body workout when done repeatedly for 15 minutes. Doing this can also ensure that you not only get all the benefits of a daily workout but also your daily dose of vitamin D-that’s a 2-in-1 benefit!

Signs, symptoms of deficiency

Since Vitamin D is essential for bone health, the deficiency is mostly related to the bone. Bone pain, rickets (soft bones) and/ or unexplained tiredness and muscle weakness are common but it could go unnoticed in some people.

How to test for Vitamin D deficiency?

If your doctor suspects vitamin D deficiency, he/she may ask you to take a 25(OH) D blood test.Recommended blood levels of vitamin D are above 30 ng/ml.

Why deficiency, that too in India?

If it’s so easy to get the Recommended Dietary Allowance, then why are so many Indians deficient in the vitamin?Blame it on urbanisation, our new lifestyle patterns and of course our ‘colour fixation.’ With most Indians working indoors most of the time, using transport (cars, buses, trains) to commute and the use of sunscreens, umbrellas, hats/ scarves to protect the skin from the sun, the chance of daily exposure to sunlight reduces.

As they say in Sanskrit, Arogyam Bhaskarat ichchet or ‘one becomes healthy through the blessings of Sun god.’ So, don’t wait for a deficiency diagnosis, no matter what age or gender you are. It’s time to soak up in the sun!

About Sweta Uchil-Purohit 14 Articles

Sweta Uchil-Purohit is a dietitian with over 15 years of experience in the field of nutrition and dietetics with a passion for helping people understand the topic.