What are the most important things that we need to know about Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins that our bodies need in order to function in a healthy state. It is both a nutrient that we consume and a hormone that our bodies produce. It is colloquially referred to as the “Sunshine Vitamin” since our bodies naturally produce it after exposure to sunlight. Other sources of Vitamin D include foods such as dairy products, breakfast cereals, and fatty fish such as Salmon and Tuna.
What role does it play? What are its most important functions?
Vitamin D was initially considered to be responsible for maintaining the health and functionality of the muscles, bones and joints by facilitating the absorption and retention of calcium and phosphorus. However, further research over the last decade has shown that Vitamin D also plays a key role in developing a strong immune system, maintaining organ functionality and alleviating chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma. Furthermore, a lack of adequate Vitamin D can also accelerate pre-existing mental health conditions such as dementia and schizophrenia, in the elderly.
What are the various areas/organs in your body that need Vitamin D and why?
The importance of Vitamin D stems from the fact that it is synthesized by the entire body. A clinical study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has shown that 36 organ tissues in the human body respond biologically to Vitamin D, these include tissues from the bone marrow, colon, intestine, breast, kidney, lung, prostate, retina, skin, uterus, and the stomach.
Does Vitamin D deficiency have a different impact in men and women? Please explain why and how.
In a broad sense, the impact of Vitamin D deficiency does not affect men and women differently, but it does affect different aspects of the body’s functionality in different people. This can be due to their medical history, their lifestyle and their genetics.
What about children and teenagers? Are they also suffering from Vitamin D deficiency these days? Why?
Studies conducted in the UAE have shown that nearly 85% of all residents, including children and teenagers are deficient in Vitamin D. There are multiple reasons as to why a large number of UAE residents do not receive adequate amounts of Vitamin D. Lifestyle causes such as a bad diet, lack of exercise, staying indoors for long periods of time in order to avoid the heat, and an aversion to dairy products can all lead to a lack of Vitamin D in young children and teenagers alike.
What are the consequences of Vitamin D deficiency? Please list the health problems from top to toe and explain what happens to the body. Such as brittle bones, teeth, etc.
As mentioned previously, Vitamin D is a vitamin that is synthesized by the whole body, and so a deficiency in Vitamin D has been shown to affect various functions of the body depending on the age, lifestyle and medical history of the individual. The most telling effects of Vitamin D deficiency take place in a person’s muscles and bones. A lack of Vitamin D leads to a decline in the strength and rigidity of the bones, thereby making an individual more prone to fractures, injuries and chronic conditions such as osteoporosis. The same effect can also be examined in children who develop Rickets, which is a condition that causes their bones to soften and can hinder their physical growth and development and deform their bones.
Apart from affecting the skeletal system, Vitamin D deficiency can also have an impact on a person’s general immunity thereby increasing their risk of infectious diseases. The lack of Vitamin D can also cause insulin resistance in the body, leading to high levels of blood sugar and diabetes. Last but not least, Vitamin D deficiency is the primary cause for “Seasonal Affective Disorder”, a mood disorder that can lead to depression if left untreated.
How long does it take for the signs and symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency to show up? In young children, teenagers and the adult and the elderly. Is it different for each age group? Please explain why.
A lack of Vitamin D is very difficult to diagnose in its early stages, and patients only start to exhibit symptoms once their Vitamin D levels become really low or have consistently been low over a period of time. The symptoms that can help in identifying a lack of Vitamin D include frequent joint and muscle pain, muscle weakness, fatigue, propensity to fall ill regularly, fractures that take time to heal and soft bones that may cause pain while walking or sitting for long periods of time. The difference in the way the symptoms present themselves across age groups is that the effect of the symptoms will be more severe in the elderly and aged. However, this again varies from person to person depending on their medical history and presence of any pre-existing conditions.
Are the problems of Vitamin D deficiency reversible? At what stage can they be reversed?
Yes, there are many cases in which a deficiency of Vitamin D can be reversed through diet, supplementation, and exposure to sunlight. However, the longer a person stays deficient in Vitamin D, the more likely it is for their symptoms to worsen. In those situations, merely increasing the amount of Vitamin D would not help in alleviating the deficiency related disorders.
At what stage do they become irreversible?
Despite having a prolonged period of being deficient in Vitamin D, patients can always undertake steps to ensure that their Vitamin D levels get back to normal. However, in case of any pre-existing condition that might get exacerbated, a deficiency of Vitamin D in the elderly is usually more harmful than it is in young people.
What is the status of Vitamin D deficiency in the UAE? Do you have figures and statistics?
As of last year, studies had shown that approximately 85% of UAE residents were suffering from a deficiency of Vitamin D. Despite being sunny all year round, the reason for such huge numbers is that due to the heat in the summer months, most people tend to remain indoors and commute using their cars thereby reducing their exposure to sunlight. This coupled with an unbalanced diet has led to a rise in the number of people suffering from a lack of adequate Vitamin D.
Dr. Kirti Mohan Marya,
Aster Specialist Clinic for Orthopaedics and Physiotherapy, Al Qusais