Vitamin D is both a nutrient that we consume and a fat-soluble hormone that our bodies produce. It is required for the body’s calcium and phosphate levels to be maintained and regulated. To maintain strong bones, teeth and muscles, these nutrients are necessary. Thus, a deficiency of vitamin D raises the chance of developing several chronic diseases. It can result in bone discomfort brought on by osteomalacia in adults and bone deformities such as rickets in children. However, vitamin D receptors are found in a large number of human organs and tissues, which suggest significant implications beyond just bone health.
Types and Sources of Vitamin D: Which one do you need?
Though certain foods have been fortified with vitamin D, very few of them actually contain vitamin D naturally. It is challenging to consume enough vitamin D through your diet. Therefore, some people need supplements. But which ones do you need? There are two types of vitamin D supplements: vitamin D2 or “pre-vitamin D” and vitamin D3. The term, “the sunshine vitamin,” refers to both of these naturally occurring forms, which are created in the presence of ultraviolet-B (UVB) radiation from the sun. However, D3 is produced by animals, including humans, and D2 by plants and fungus.
The main natural source of vitamin D is the skin. However, cramped urban living blocks out most of the sunshine and forces people to spend most of their time indoors. The pigment (melanin) serves as a shade, limiting vitamin D production on the skin while reducing the harmful effects of sunlight, including skin cancer. Therefore, people with darker skin (more melanin) tend to have lower blood levels of vitamin D. Some food sources containing vitamin D include red meat, liver, egg yolk, oily fish (including salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel) and fortified meals (like some spreads and cereals).
How much Vitamin D do you actually need?
Most people can produce all the vitamin D they require from late March or early April to the end of September by getting enough sunlight on their skin and by eating a balanced diet. However, as the sun is not powerful enough to produce enough vitamin D during the rainy and winter seasons, one must obtain it from their food or by taking supplements. Everyone (including expectant and nursing mothers) should think about taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during this time.
However, if one takes too many vitamin D supplements over time, there can be an accumulation of calcium in the body (hypercalcemia). The heart, kidneys, and bones may also be harmed by this. The majority of people only need 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day if they decide to take supplements.
A daily vitamin D intake of more than 100 micrograms (4,000 IU) may, however, be dangerous. This applies to all individuals, including those who are pregnant, nursing, elderly, and kids who are 11 to 17 years old. Children between the ages of 1-10 should consume no more than 50 micrograms (2,000 IU) per day. Under-12-month infants shouldn’t consume more than 25 micrograms (1,000 IU) each day. You can buy vitamin D supplements or drops at most pharmacies and supermarkets. However, it is advisable that one must speak with their doctor before taking any supplements.
Is Vitamin D toxicity real?
Vitamin D toxicity or Hypervitaminosis D is a rare but potentially dangerous illness that develops when your body is exposed to too much vitamin D. It occurs not by diet or sun exposure but typically through high doses of vitamin D supplements. A build-up of calcium in your blood (hypercalcemia), which can result in nausea and frequent vomitting, weakness and frequent urination, is the main side effect of vitamin D toxicity. The most frequently observed clinical symptoms of Vitamin D toxicity also include confusion, apathy, stomach pain, polyuria, polydipsia and dehydration. In addition to this, calcium stones may form in the kidneys and bone discomfort may result from vitamin D toxicity. Although vitamin D toxicity is not reported from spending too much time in the sun, always remember to cover up or protect your skin if you’re out for long to reduce the risk of skin cancer and skin damage.
Do South Asians really need Vitamin D supplements?
If you have a dark complexion, such as if you are of South-Asian, African, or African-Caribbean descent, you may have trouble consuming enough vitamin D solely from sunshine. India enjoys plenty of sunshine as it is a tropical country. The majority of Indians are presumed to have sufficient vitamin D levels because they reside in regions with year-round access to ample sunlight. However, contrary to all beliefs, vitamin D deficiency is a common problem in the country.
This is brought on by the dark skin complexion (increase in skin pigmentation which acts as a type of natural sunscreen), increased reliance on indoor activities, which limits exposure to sunshine, urbanisation, application of sunscreen products, and cultural customs, Indian dietary practices and reduced use of foods fortified with vitamin D. Majority of foods high in vitamin D come from animals and a majority of Indians are vegetarians. However, rural residents, who by virtue of their line of work receive adequate sun exposure, may also have low levels of vitamin D. This might be a result of their diet, which is heavy in phytate and low in calcium.
Unfortunately, diet alone cannot provide enough vitamin D to meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Indians as about 90 per cent of people today spend the majority of their time indoors. A comprehensive plan to fight vitamin D insufficiency would hence involve sufficient sun exposure, food changes, supplementation as needed, managing obesity and paying particular attention to people with darker skin tones.